A disheartened comment made by her three-year old daughter about the colour of her skin served as the catalyst for Mathuri Santhi-Morgan to launch a brave social movement empowering intercultural woman.
GIRLS (Global, Intercultural, Resilient, Loud and Strong) Rising up, has been live for 2 months and already has 600 (very active) members. The purpose is simple: Give cross-cultural women greater visibility.
“I want to tell more stories of women who have broken the barriers,” says Mathuri. “I want to tell the stories of women who have led tremendous journeys—personal journeys, to get here. Right now, I don’t see us represented at conferences I attend, and I don’t see us represented in the media.” A double jeopardy of ethnicity and gender prevents intercultural women from rising up the ranks.
“But if we continue to tell stories of these amazing intercultural women who have overcome professional and personal adversity and make them visible and give them a voice then there’s no denying what we can do,” she tells me.
“I really want to change the narrative from being a negative one, to one that says: ‘Look at these role models. These are the women that you can aspire to be. If they can do it, I can do it.’”
As a Malaysian national of Sri Lankan heritage, Mathuri knows this all too acutely. She tells me that she knew from a young age that the expectations on her were immense. She would have to work “10x harder” to get to where she wanted to be, in life and work.
My parents were both very, very hardworking and broke the barriers in the corporate world,” she says. “I think I saw that, and I developed my work ethic from that. I knew I had to work, probably 10x harder to be seen and to be heard and to get to where I was going.”
Indeed, work ethic is hardly an area someone could fault Mathuri on. As well as running GIRLS Rising Up, she holds a full-time government role as executive producer, while also chairing NGO, Bersih which champions clean and fair elections in Malaysia. All of this, while juggling a young family including a six-year-old daughter and two-year-old son.
When I ask Mathuri how she handles it all, she offers the most perfect response:
“When you told me the series was called ‘juggle and thrive,’ I was thinking my situation was more like ‘struggle and strive’” she laughingly admits. “That would be a more apt description.”
“Between political activism and gender activism and working, I have a tremendously supportive husband who does a lot as far as making the household run,” she explains.
“I think it is about striving. My husband is happy to take on a more supportive role on the domestic front and I’m with my kids as much as I can be, but once they’re in bed, my second life starts.”
And while the load can feel immense at times, Mathuri says there’s nothing better than the reward. “Days and nights are fairly long, but at the end of the day when you see the results it makes it all the more worthwhile,” she says.
Her advice to other parents with multiple balls in the air? Accept infallibility but know you’re far from alone.
“It’s not easy and the struggle is real,” Mathuri freely admits. “It is everything from the look you get when you walk into work late after your child was sick or had a tantrum at childcare, to how you feel completely exhausted all the time.”
“Really focus on what’s important. Really work out what your purpose and priorities are. I used to be completely OCD about the housework, but over time I just gave up on the idea of perfection. Just let it go. You can only be the best version of you.
“If you have to make certain sacrifices don’t beat yourself up. We can’t do it all. Or, as the saying goes, we can do it all but just not all at once.”
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Read more in the Juggle Thrive series: