Leyla Makhmudova. TEDx, Comic Books and Gender Equality

Leyla Makhmudova

Leyla is among of the changemakers who brings her personal efforts to make a difference. She is handling different projects and shares the insights, her current view on education and the changes we all can make.

Leyla, can you tell us about yourself and your prior experience?

I was born and raised in South Kazakhstan. Bachelor degree holder from Suleiman Demirel University in a faculty of education. Methods, research methods, psychology, and educational program building were my area of studies.

University life was a crucial time when I understand my interests. It was a time full of social activities. The skills and knowledge I gained was the fundamental base for my career and the projects in education I am accomplishing now. At the time I happened to be the first female president, I understood that women in leading roles are not the frequent case.

Right after university, my partner and I started an educational project – Hasley. The idea was to learn English and prepare for the IELTS test. That was an important time for me when I deeply understood project management realities, all spheres of business development and practically involved in teacher training and program development.

Hasley School

From the beginning of this year, I’m managing different projects. We did the project for the capacity building of women in business. We had several conferences in different cities of Kazakhstan for women in small and medium-sized business. It was supported by European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (BRD). It was about helping women to grow their own businesses. In KZ there is a huge involvement of women. Women mostly own small-scaled businesses. However, in medium and large businesses there are no women owners. I understand that the challenge of economic empowerment of women in our country is not to involve them, but rather to help them sustain their business and grow.

WECON

The second project connects with education. It’s the network of non-formal education clubs throughout the country where they can discuss comic books. Comic books are visual and easy to understand. It’s an attractive way to involve teenagers into a discussion of the topic. It helps not only get to know the issue but openly discuss it among the peers.  In our case, we mainly focus around gender equality, since all the comics have main characters as women. Plus, there are such issues as intercultural communication, migration, mental health. I believe it’s an alternative source of learning of language. Developing critical thinking, raising gender awareness, race – global issues not discussed in a formal setting.

What inspired you to organize TedxAbayStWomen?

While we were meeting different people, we wanted a community of people interested in new ideas and open to new concepts. We found TEDx format and instantly loved it.

While watching video online, you can see nothing except a speaker and the name of TEDx event. No logos or any other information. It clearly shows that event prohibits ad moments. The whole attention of the viewer is into the idea. Values are spread by design of the conference: openness, diversity, humanity.

What made it special for you and for other women from Kazakhstan?

By that time we already had TEDx Almaty and I knew it should be TEDx AbayStWomen. Why women?! Matter of gender equality was not only professional but personal. In most cases, women and girls are not given the chances to speak their stories and share their ideas. Being a woman is like a status quo and quite inferior one. There is an assumption that as a woman you are likely to be less professional compare to man. You may be considered as not smart enough or be under an effect of stereotype. Unfortunately, not only men, but women support stereotypes in their daily life. All this leads to devaluation of a girl. The role in the society, in personal life is bounded by social stereotypes and expectations. Therefore, this conference can be a moment which can somehow change the situation.

Myth 1: “Muslim women are banned to study and work”

I really like the idea that we can spread the talks and ideas shared in the event through the videos uploaded to the TEDx channel. Everybody who didn’t get the chance to be in the event will be able to watch it. 

What’s the process of hosting TedX conference?

The process of hosting  depends on the person. First, you have to apply to get a license. In eight weeks TED team will give you the license if your application is successful. After that as a license holder, I gather a team of enthusiasts who are eager to speak about gender empowerment and equality. It takes around a month to bring the team in order to design a conference. Our one day conference takes 3 to 5 months to prepare. Right after that, we start working on promotion of the shared ideas.

As an organizer, for me, the most important and time consuming part is to seek for organizers and teammates. Secondly, partners who can support us. And the last but not least is to attract the right audience, who is interested to share the experience of the conference. In all those three categories of people, I first start informal meetings where I share “the why” and “the value” of the conference. From the very first beginning involved people should understand: it’s all about values.

TED X

This year our conference Abay Street Women is going to be held for the third time. Luckily, this year we are preparing for another conference called TEDx Youth at Abay Street for youth involvement.

You are actively involved in youth development, bringing the change through education. What’s the current level of education we have in Kazakhstan and Central Asia?

I feel like women and youth are taken out from their voices and opinions. Most of the organizations and programs targeting these groups are having a top down approach. They objectify them and tell them what to do. Rather than giving them a voice and developing their potential.

This happens in the educational area, kids are seen as tools or even objects. Not having any choice and conditions to develop the capacity they have. Every time I work with teenagers,  I observe that they have quite fixed mindset. They have a mindset of followers, which limits their human essence. The adults involved in working with youth often say that youngsters became passive, not creative and have little ideas. But the thing is that they are not taught to be initiative and to see themselves as ACTors.

In many speeches, the government is in the gullible belief that youth has a lot of opportunities in our time of global economy. In shared media which gives them a power to be changemakers. Even if we have these opportunities, it does not mean that one can use them. Because simply in order to use them, one should be taught to do so. First of all, you should be informed about opportunities. Aware that you have the right to use them and be taught how to use them. In schools and universities, we are still not developing any curriculum to be actively involved in learning. Doing something extra, discussing issues and developing any worldview. And unfortunately, they are not going to be much different from the older generation. This is not because they are passive or lazy, just because all their energy was given to executing or following rather than being themselves.

What are the changes we need to make in order to improve the satisfaction rate of the average student/employee/parent?

To change this, personal initiatives, entrepreneurs, NGOs have this changing moment. They are smaller and they can adapt to changes much faster. English language centers or sport clubs are very popular now. Youth go there voluntarily, they are motivated to do these things. Extracurricular activities, non-formal education organizations can really adapt the project based learning and involve new types of topics and new kinds of experience. There students can understand how the learning process is revealing and how it can be really inspiring. Changing moment can be done by NGO initiaters. If they are really interested in attracting people into their programs, they can do revolutionary things in time.

What are the core values of every project you handle?

The core value of the projects that I do is inclusion, openness and diversity. Whatever project I take I believe that the projects can bring value to underrepresented groups of people. By here I mean the quality, since the number of female and youth population is quite big. But still, these groups are underrepresented and undervalued in decision making processes. I hope these projects can make these people be changemakers. That they can be in any sphere, any role including the top roles. And won’t be devaluated by their age or gender.

How to bring equality in Kazakhstan?

As a person from the educational sphere, I believe that in order to be more inclusive and equal as the society we should do that through education. This is the core of Why of education. We want things to be changed, want to be prosperous, to be mentally stronger than now. Through educational projects, people can share their knowledge, train or mentor other people or create spaces where people can learn. These are the places where people can really grow.

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