It's typically the people behind the scenes that are the driving force of true cultural, political, and social shift. Often, those people are Black women. These powerhouses fight the good fight for effective change in ways that push the culture forward. When Black women take up the battle to fight for gender equality and against violence against women and girls, things happen.
Standing at the intersection of local and global change for women, Deborah Owhin is no exception; she's the rule.
"From a young age, I was an advocate, I did not know that was what it was called but I would stand up for other girls who wa being bullied in school. At an early age, I was exposed to domestic abuse as a result of the extended community I belong to. I would see my maternal aunt and my mother's friends come to our house with bloodied faces full of tears and voices filled with pain."
Witnessing the effect of bullying and the aftermath of domestic violence as a child, Deborah found her calling and career in becoming a fervent advocate for women and girls. As a sought-after global strategist with McKinsey & Company, the #1 consulting firm in the world, she fights gender inequality and violence against women and girls on multiple fronts and is doing it all with grit, grace, and gravitas.
Her global commitment is woven throughout her life story. With degrees from Spelman College and Oxford University, Owhin has held strategist positions where she led the charge for the rights of women and girls through programming and policy. In 2013, she was invited to join the United Kingdom's delegation to The United Nations' 57th Commission on the Status of Women in New York City. Recognizing the extreme lack of diversity within the delegation, she founded Made Equal that same year, a nonprofit that empowers first generation professionals to end gender inequity and violence against women and girls on both a local and global scale.
Her current work with McKinsey & Company has put Owhin in the company of advocacy and entertainment giants like Malala Yousafzai, Angelina Jolie, and Meryl Streep to secure rights, protections, and opportunities for women and girls across the globe. xoNecole chatted with Deborah about her career trajectory as a Black woman in global strategy, the importance of women speaking up for themselves, and her advice for pushing forward the fight for the rights of women and girls.
Having championed women for so long and now in a global setting, what is your ultimate goal?
One of my major goals is to share the things I have learned and educate women with non-academic skills, which I believe will serve the opportunity to connect women globally. I have always believed I would create a global platform to teach women and girls how to develop their dreams, their leadership vision and the communities they want! I believe this will change nations by giving them the tools to use their voices.
What does all of your well-earned acclaim mean to you?
It means that I can be the image for other young women and people of color that I did not see growing up. It means that others can believe they can because I am daily pushing to achieve my dreams. It means that it's never too late to pivot or change into a career or industry that you have an interest, we no longer live in a world where people stay in jobs for 20 years. The role I expect to do in 10 years has not even been created yet... I am still working on it!
"It's never too late to pivot or change into a career or industry that you have an interest, we no longer live in a world where people stay in jobs for 20 years. The role I expect to do in 10 years has not even been created yet... I am still working on it!"
What advice do you have for women who want to assert themselves, to ask for what they are worth but are afraid of rocking the boat?
Stop short-changing yourself! The very worst that could happen is a person says "no" at that point. You then have a decision to make and reflect on the reason for that "no". Was it a premature ask you made? Are you being undervalued? Could you go somewhere else and get a "yes"? I learned a lot about negotiating during my MBA and also about going for things that I did not think women like me would achieve, such as the Skoll Scholarship, which I was the first African, first Black woman to receive at the University of Oxford to fully fund my MBA. Secondly, find other people who you believe have rocked the boat and taken a risk in their careers... Listen to their journeys and I hope you find the courage to see no limits!
What has been the largest challenge you've faced as a Black woman strategist in the global space? How did you overcome that challenge?
Being visible. I have sat in rooms where physically I am the only person who looks like me— a woman or a black person— and you would expect that to create a space to participate but if often does not. It's as though being different from those sitting in the room and at the decision tables makes it easier to ignore.
Firstly, as Michelle Obama has shared in her intimate talk in London last December, I must work harder. Secondly, I find allies who naturally are leaders who naturally make space for my voice to be heard. They give credit to my work in front of partners and clients and often open the floor for me to share my ideas.
"I have sat in rooms where physically I am the only person who looks like me— a woman or a black person— and you would expect that to create a space to participate but if often does not. It's as though being different from those sitting in the room and at the decision tables makes it easier to ignore."
Who inspired you to launch your current career path?
I was inspired by the lack of representation of women of color in leadership positions in government and the private sector. I was inspired by the young women who desired to also become champions of humans rights work but could not even get an opportunity to volunteer, as the UK government had made some many cuts in budgets affecting services that supported women. I was inspired by the women I have met from around the world, championing an end to violence against women and girls in their villages, towns, cities and nations. I was inspired because I believe I can make a difference. Spelman College propelled me to believe that every day I can 'make a choice to change the world'. That's our legacy!
If you are interested in learning more about how you can help fight for women and girls, check out these resources:
National Sexual Violence Resource Center
Ashley is a storybuilder and storyteller who writes and produces to inform, connect, encourage and evoke. Vibe with her on Twitter/Instagram: @ashleylatruly.
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From Monogamy To Polyamory: 'I'm In An Asexual Poly Marriage With My Husband Of 7 Years'
Have you ever wondered what it's like to be asexual and in an open marriage? Relationship Coach Mikki Bey shared her first-hand experience with us as well as answered some of our burning questions.
Like a lot of people, Mikki met her now husband, Raheem Ali, online. As soon as they met, they instantly fell in love and got engaged on their first date. Just 90 days after they met, the couple tied the knot and have now been married for seven years. Raheem and Mikki aren’t your typical married couple, and despite being married for almost a decade, their marriage is anything but traditional. Mikki and Raheem have what she calls an "asexual polyamorous marriage."
Defining Her Sexuality
It wasn't until last summer that Mikki found the language to define her sexuality. "I didn't have the language for it until last summer," she explained to xoNecole. "Looking back, I just thought sex wasn't my thing. It was never enjoyable for me, and I'd go years without even noticing.”
Mikki always thought she was broken because she had no interest in sex. Mikki noticed after her friends came to visit and started discussing their sexual fantasies that she realized something was different about her. “At that point, I knew something was definitely different about me since I do not have sexual fantasies at all. It was truly news to me that people are at work thinking about sex! That was not my experience.” This led to Mikki researching asexuality, which she soon realized fit her to a T. “It felt like breathing new air when I was able to call it by name," said Mikki.
"Looking back, I just thought sex wasn't my thing. It was never enjoyable for me, and I'd go years without even noticing it."
Asexuality refers to people who experience little or no sexual attraction, experience attraction without acting on it sexually, or experience sexual attraction differently based on other factors. Like most things, asexuality falls on a spectrum and encompasses many other identities. It's important to remember, however, that attraction and action are not always synonymous: some asexuals may reject the idea of sexual contact, but others may be sex-neutral and engage in sexual activity.
It's possible that some asexuals will have sex with someone else despite not having a libido or masturbating, but others will have sex with a partner because it brings a sense of connection.
From a Traditional Marriage to Kitchen Table Polyamory
Although Mikki never really had a high sex drive, it wasn’t until after the birth of her son, that she noticed her sex drive took a real nosedive. “I never had a high sex drive, but about a year after my son was born, I realized I had zero desire. My husband has a high sex drive, and I knew that it would not be sustainable to not have sex in our marriage at that time.”
She was determined to find an alternative to divorce and stumbled upon a polyamory conversation on Clubhouse. Upon doing her own research, she brought up the idea to their husband, who was receptive. “It’s so interesting to me that people weigh sex so heavily in relationships when even if you are having a ton of sex, it’s still a very small percentage of the relationship activity," Mikki shared.
They chose polyamory because Mikki still wanted to be married, but she also wanted to make sure that Raheem was getting his individual needs and desires met, even if that meant meeting them with someone else. “I think that we have been programmed to think that our spouses need to be our 'everything.' We do not operate like that. There is no one way that fits all when it comes to relationships, despite what society may try to tell you. Their path to doing this thing called life together may be different from yours, but they found what works for them. We have chosen to design a marriage that works for us,” Mikki explained.
"We have chosen to design a marriage that works for us. We both consent to each of us having everything from casual sex partners to lifetime partners if it should go there. We believe love is abundant and do not limit ourselves or each other on how we express it."
She continued, “We both consent to each of us having everything from casual sexual partners to lifetime partners if it should get there. We believe love is abundant and do not limit ourselves or each other on how we express it. Our dynamic is parallel with kitchen table poly aspirations.”
Kitchen table polyamory (KTP) is a polyamorous relationship in which all participants are on friendly terms enough to share a meal at the kitchen table. Basically, it means you have some form of relationship with your partner’s other partner, whether as a group or individually. A lot of times, KTP relationships are highly personal and rooted in mutual respect, communication, and friendship.
Intimacy in an Asexual Polyamorous Marriage
Mikki says she and her husband, Raheem, still share intimate moments despite being in a polyamorous marriage. “Our intimacy is emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and physical, although non-sexual. We are intentional about date nights weekly, surprising and delighting each other daily, and most of all, we communicate our needs regularly. In my opinion, our intimacy is top-tier! I give my husband full-body massages, mani-pedis and make sure I am giving him small physical touches/kisses throughout the day. He is also very intentional about showing me his love and affection.”
Raheem and Mikki now use their lives as examples for others. On their website, thepolycouplenextdoor.com, they coach people interested in learning how to be consensually non-monogamous. “We are both relationship coaches. I specialized in emotional regulation, and Raheem specializes in communication and conflict resolution. The same tools we use in our marriage help our clients succeed in polyamory."
Mikki advises people who may be asexual or seeking non-monogamy to communicate their needs openly and to consider seeking sex therapy or intimacy coaching. Building a strong relationship with a non-sexual partner requires both empathy and compassion.
For more of Mikki, follow her on Instagram @getmikkibey. Follow the couple's platform on Instagram @thepolycouplenextdoor.
Featured image by skynesher/Getty Images