Culture 02 October 2017
She was born in Pakistan, a place where girls and women receive little to no support or resources to become successful, strong women in life either personally or professionally. Somehow though, Shama Zehra beat those odds, becoming one of the youngest female entrepreneurs in Pakistan.
She started her first company, one focussed on clothing design that she started in her family's apartment when she was only sixteen-years-old. She then earned two MBA's before joining the largest private sector bank in Pakistan as a Senior Officer and serving as the product head for the Pakistan International Airline (PIA) co-branded card. It was the first frequent flyer credit card in Pakistan. She soon moved on to a position at Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. She's a whirlwind. And that was just the beginning. She is now busy at work on an app called Jetzy “that taps into the emerging market of 'flashpacker' millennials who are lifestyle travelers that prefer to travel on their own terms, connect with locals and discover hidden gems all while making friends globally." The app already boasts users from 137 countries and almost half a million social media followers.
How does a Pakistani woman do all of that in spite of it all? Well, for one thing, she follows her own advice when it comes to challenging the negative messaging so many women still experience today in nearly every one of life's arenas is simple - she allows the things that don't serve her to simply go in one ear and come out the other.
Here's more on just how Zehra has managed to accomplish the remarkable work she has done.
What gave you the confidence as a child to think you would ever be more than "someone's wife"?
When I was growing up in Pakistan, women were generally considered inferior human beings to men. Although it's gotten better today, it's still expected for a woman to be an extension of her husband, and her own dreams and ambitions are not encouraged or taken seriously. I was blessed with parents who were both entrepreneurs, with a ton of ambition, especially my mother, who was fearless, resilient, and supportive. She always encouraged me in my career all along the line
What inspired you to start working in fashion as a teenager?
I have loved fashion, lifestyle, and travel since I was a kid. When I found an opportunity to build something in the fashion space, I jumped on it.
How did that apparel company succeed despite you being a woman growing up in Pakistan?
From the beginning, we knew it wasn't going to be easy. Pakistan is a hard place to run a small business, let alone a business run by women. Women were not treated with the same level of respect and importance as men in Pakistan. Between not being taken seriously in business negotiations and dealing with thefts, the setbacks we faced only encouraged us to work harder to overcome adversity. I heard all the time “you can't do it" from multiple men and some women too. The negativity only gave me the fuel to prove even more people wrong.
What were you parents' reactions when you started the apparel company?
Well, my mother, sister, and I started the company together. So they were all for it. My mother was no stranger to entrepreneurship. So she encouraged me and was my biggest supporter every step of the way.
How did you come to sell that first company?
We started the company in my family apartment, and it grew rapidly. We soon moved on to a facility where we could build a small factory with six staff members and a flagship store. We were doing business to customer from the store to women and business to business to the Pakistani equivalents of Macy's. We also had pop-up stores at five-star hotels. Despite our success, the infrastructure problems (thefts, security issues, bomb blasts, curfew in the city, lack of electricity etc.) made it very challenging for small business owners to succeed in Pakistan, especially for women, that's why I decided to sell the business when I was twenty.
When you were a little girl, did you ever imagine you would be where you are today?
Yes and no. I knew I could do a lot for some reason. I'm not sure where my drive was coming from. But I was very driven even as a child and used to think about creating another McDonalds. I didn't know that I would be so fortunate as to pursue my passion of travel. Jetzy has made it all possible for me.
If you could speak to every little girl and young woman growing up today under the current administration, what words of advice would you give them?
I would strongly encourage them to ignore those who look down on them and use their discouragement as fuel to prove them wrong. No matter what you do, you aren't going to please everyone, and that's life. For young people who think they may not have what it takes to run their own business or make it in a certain industry; just follow your dreams. By surrounding yourself with the right positive people and pushing the limits, you truly can do anything.
What would you say is the greatest challenge/obstacle you ever encountered?
I would say the biggest challenge I faced was the security issue in Pakistan. Let alone all other issues, we had to work hard to stay alive and stay safe. Gender equality issue was another area. Not only was it extremely relevant in Pakistan, but on Wall Street as well. The finance sector is obviously a very male-dominated industry. Proving myself in several markets, I put in the time, discipline, and work ethic that was required for me to succeed in these male-centered environments. The female role models we have in business today are incredible. Women are now given a lot more equal opportunity that they were given in years past.
What is your dream for the future both for yourself and for all women across the globe?
I want to grow Jetzy so that it can help people in all walks of life. For women across the world, I want to be a resource of advice and connections.
Come join my Jetzy girl on the app. I will be building a channel of career connections for women globally who join Jetzy girl on the app.
How do you stay inspired?
Meditation, prayers, yoga, my little nephew, and, of course, my Jetzy family all keep me inspired.
All Photos Courtesy of Shama Zehra
For decades, women have been unknowingly suffering from PSD and intergenerational trauma, but now Dr. Valerie Rein wants women to reclaim their power through mind, body and healing tools.
As women, no matter how many accomplishments we have or how successful we look on the outside, we all occasionally hear that nagging internal voice telling us to do more. We criticize ourselves more than anyone else and then throw ourselves into the never-ending cycle of self-care, all in effort to save ourselves from crashing into this invisible internal wall. According to psychologist, entrepreneur and author, Dr. Valerie Rein, these feelings are not your fault and there is nothing wrong with you— but chances are you definitely suffering from Patriarchy Stress Disorder.
Patriarchy Stress Disorder (PSD) is defined as the collective inherited trauma of oppression that forms an invisible inner barrier to women's happiness and fulfillment. The term was coined by Rein who discovered a missing link between trauma and the effects that patriarchal power structures have had on certain groups of people all throughout history up until the present day. Her life experience, in addition to research, have led Rein to develop a deeper understanding of the ways in which men and women are experiencing symptoms of trauma and stress that have been genetically passed down from previously oppressed generations.
What makes the discovery of this disorder significant is that it provides women with an answer to the stresses and trauma we feel but cannot explain or overcome. After being admitted to the ER with stroke-like symptoms one afternoon, when Rein noticed the left side of her body and face going numb, she was baffled to learn from her doctors that the results of her tests revealed that her stroke-like symptoms were caused by stress. Rein was then left to figure out what exactly she did for her clients in order for them to be able to step into the fullness of themselves that she was unable to do for herself. "What started seeping through the tears was the realization that I checked all the boxes that society told me I needed to feel happy and fulfilled, but I didn't feel happy or fulfilled and I didn't feel unhappy either. I didn't feel much of anything at all, not even stress," she stated.
Photo Courtesy of Dr. Valerie Rein
This raised the question for Rein as to what sort of hidden traumas women are suppressing without having any awareness of its presence. In her evaluation of her healing methodology, Rein realized that she was using mind, body and trauma healing tools with her clients because, while they had never experienced a traumatic event, they were showing the tell-tale symptoms of trauma which are described as a disconnect from parts of ourselves, body and emotions. In addition to her personal evaluation, research at the time had revealed that traumatic experiences are, in fact, passed down genetically throughout generations. This was Rein's lightbulb moment. The answer to a very real problem that she, and all women, have been experiencing is intergenerational trauma as a result of oppression formed under the patriarchy.
Although Rein's discovery would undoubtably change the way women experience and understand stress, it was crucial that she first broaden the definition of trauma not with the intention of catering to PSD, but to better identify the ways in which trauma presents itself in the current generation. When studying psychology from the books and diagnostic manuals written exclusively by white men, trauma was narrowly defined as a life-threatening experience. By that definition, not many people fit the bill despite showing trauma-like symptoms such as disconnections from parts of their body, emotions and self-expression. However, as the field of psychology has expanded, more voices have been joining the conversations and expanding the definition of trauma based on their lived experience. "I have broadened the definition to say that any experience that makes us feel unsafe psychically or emotionally can be traumatic," stated Rein. By redefining trauma, people across the gender spectrum are able to find validation in their experiences and begin their journey to healing these traumas not just for ourselves, but for future generations.
While PSD is not experienced by one particular gender, as women who have been one of the most historically disadvantaged and oppressed groups, we have inherited survival instructions that express themselves differently for different women. For some women, this means their nervous systems freeze when faced with something that has been historically dangerous for women such as stepping into their power, speaking out, being visible or making a lot of money. Then there are women who go into fight or flight mode. Although they are able to stand in the spotlight, they pay a high price for it when their nervous system begins to work in a constant state of hyper vigilance in order to keep them safe. These women often find themselves having trouble with anxiety, intimacy, sleeping or relaxing without a glass of wine or a pill. Because of this, adrenaline fatigue has become an epidemic among high achieving women that is resulting in heightened levels of stress and anxiety.
"For the first time, it makes sense that we are not broken or making this up, and we have gained this understanding by looking through the lens of a shared trauma. All of these things have been either forbidden or impossible for women. A woman's power has always been a punishable offense throughout history," stated Rein.
Although the idea of having a disorder may be scary to some and even potentially contribute to a victim mentality, Rein wants people to be empowered by PSD and to see it as a diagnosis meant to validate your experience by giving it a name, making it real and giving you a means to heal yourself. "There are still experiences in our lives that are triggering PSD and the more layers we heal, the more power we claim, the more resilience we have and more ability we have in staying plugged into our power and happiness. These triggers affect us less and less the more we heal," emphasized Rein. While the task of breaking intergenerational transmission of trauma seems intimidating, the author has flipped the negative approach to the healing journey from a game of survival to the game of how good can it get.
In her new book, Patriarchy Stress Disorder: The Invisible Barrier to Women's Happiness and Fulfillment, Rein details an easy system for healing that includes the necessary tools she has sourced over 20 years on her healing exploration with the pioneers of mind, body and trauma resolution. Her 5-step system serves to help "Jailbreakers" escape the inner prison of PSD and other hidden trauma through the process of Waking Up in Prison, Meeting the Prison Guards, Turning the Prison Guards into Body Guards, Digging the Tunnel to Freedom and Savoring Freedom. Readers can also find free tools on Rein's website to help aid in their healing journey and exploration.
"I think of the book coming out as the birth of a movement. Healing is not women against men– it's women, men and people across the gender spectrum, coming together in a shared understanding that we all have trauma and we can all heal."