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Surviving Hijab: Challenges & Opportunities – Manal Rostom

Mountaineer and Marathoner Manal Rostom is the first-ever veiled woman to be a Nike model.

In 2014 Manal Rostom wrote to Nike to ask why none of their ads featured women who looked or dressed like her: Arab women who wear the hijab. Nike got in touch and Manal not only ended up featuring in their international advertising campaign, but also became involved in developing Nike’s Pro Hijab, a head scarf designed for veiled women who participate in sports.

But growing up Manal didn’t plan on wearing the hijab: her attitude towards covering was negative due to the stereotypes of veiled women being timid or uneducated. Manal talked about these perceptions she once held and how determined she is to change the stereotype: enter our power-house runner, mountaineer and fitness coach!

While Manal Rostom originally trained as a pharmacist and spent 14 years in the corporate world, she is now a full-time fitness coach who has summitted 7 mountains and run 11 marathons! She is the first Egyptian woman to summit Mont Blanc. There is even an Apple playlist called “Run with Manal” and she is the first Arab to be featured on the Global Nike+ Run Club App. Manal started wearing the hijab aged 21 but almost gave it up in 2014 – that is when she created the Surviving Hijab Facebook Community Group for which she recently won an award – it has grown to over 600,000 members.

During our chat Manal opened up for the first time about her experience dealing with horrific cyber-bullies, blow-back from a tolerance message she posted on her facebook group. We discussed how society can place a heavy burden on women, judging them on things that lay outside their control. Finally, we talked about motivation and what drives her up the mountain when she is physically drained.

My favourite quote from the episode: “I love it when little boys look at me and I’m their role model.”

If you’d like to follow Manal you can find her on Instagram and Facebook.

Read the Transcript

Note: While When Women Win is produced as an audio recording, we are delighted to produce transcripts for those who are unable to hear. Kindly note that these are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Media is encouraged to check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.

Rana Nawas: (00:00)
Hello ladies and gentlemen, my guest on today’s show is the first ever veiled woman to be featured in a Nike ad campaign. For listeners who may not know the veil or Muslim headscarf is called the hijab. While Manal Rostom trained as a pharmacist and spent over a year in the corporate world, she’s now a fitness coach who has summitted seven mountains and run 11 marathons. There’s even an apple playlist called run with Manal, and she’s the first Arab to be featured on the Global Nike Run Club App. Manal started wearing the hijab at 21, but almost gave it up in 2014, when she started Surviving Hijab facebook community group for which she recently won an award. Manal opened up for the first time about her experience dealing with horrific cyberbullies blowback from a tolerance message she posted on facebook. She talked about the negative perception of Hijabi women and how determined she is to change that stereotype – enter a powerhouse runner, mountaineer and fitness coach. We discussed how society can place a heavy burden on women, judging them on things that lay outside their sphere of control. Finally, we talked about motivation and what drives her up the mountain when she’s physically drained, so let’s get into it. Manal, welcome to When Women Win, it’s so great to have you on the show.

Manal Rostom: (01:22)
Thank you so much for having me.

Rana Nawas: (01:23)
Congratulations on winning an award from facebook for Surviving Hijab, your facebook community group.

Manal Rostom: (01:30)
Thank you so much, Rana. Thank you.

Rana Nawas: (01:32)
Can you tell us more about it?

Manal Rostom: (01:33)
So basically in March 2018, Mark Zuckerberg, he launched this new initiative called the facebook community leadership program. Someone was adding – almost bringing change to the world basically by their causes that they feel very strongly about. So I found out about the initiative in March, and I applied, I presented our application as Surviving Hijab, as you know, a forum or a platform that has become a safe haven for women to go online and share their doubts, their fears about what it’s like to wear the hijab, whether it’s in the Middle East or or abroad. And what are the current struggles and issues that women face. And, we’ve been chosen out of the 6,000 applications, it’s been like 114 community leaders and I’m one of the 114 community leaders

Rana Nawas: (02:26)
And, that’s not all that came from that story, right? There’s been a bit of an aftermath, in Surviving Hijab, and the award. Could you tell us a bit about that? If it’s okay to go there?

Manal Rostom: (02:38)
Did you mean the, what’s currently happening?

Rana Nawas: (02:41)

Manal Rostom: (02:42)
So basically I did not, I did not foresee, you know, the storm coming with the good news and, and you know, I, I thought I’d be celebrating or spending these few days celebrating, but I had met this beautiful girl who works for facebook and she is Jewish and we sort of wanted to like, you know, spread peace and love to the world basically. And she wanted to try on my hijab and she did. And we actually look very similar. Like if you see us with Hijab on, you’d actually like mistake us for sisters or you know, the pretty much the same person. We have thick eyebrows, you know, we have the same color eyes. So she suggested that we post it to facebook as like a means of like spreading peace and love, and I did and a lot of people were angered by it. So clearly there are a lot of, you know, viral posts of negativity going around about me and my motives and my intentions for having set up the group in the first place, which is very, very hurtful to come from people that you’ve worked with and helped for many, many years. So I’m currently dealing with this, and it’s a hard time for me to be honest, but this too shall pass, insallah.

Rana Nawas: (03:59)
I was really shaken by your instagram posts. I’d never seen anyone. I mean you have 51,000 followers and you shared with them that you’d spend a lot of time crying because of cyberbullying. Now you’ve been influential for some time now. Have you been cyber bullied before and how have you dealt with it?

Manal Rostom: (04:18)
Honestly, like this is the most extreme cyberbullying that I’ve ever faced in my life. I mean, I have been attacked verbally on social media in the past, like every time Nike releases a campaign that I’m featured in, and people are always saying, this is not a hijab, you know, this is not modest where she’s only covering your hair. She’s not covering her body because I’m always featured wearing tights while I run, which is the most convenient thing to run in as a runner and you’ll only get it if you run. If you don’t run, you will not understand the science behind why women and men, similarly, have to run in tights. So I’m always being attacked by don’t call yourself a hijabi or you don’t represent me, you know, these harsh and hurtful comments. But honestly, like the past couple of days I’ve been losing sleep. My facebook messenger does not stop like the messages, the messages, you know, keep coming in mixed. To be honest, a lot of people have been supportive, but there’s one post that’s currently going viral and it’s unstoppable. Like, you know, people are sharing it and sharing all of it. All of it is false information. First of all, they’re saying that I don’t live in Dubai, that I’m not Egyptian, that I’m being supported by Israel that I’m supporting, you know, the killings of Palestinians, and where did all this come from? I mean, it was a very peaceful photo of me and a Jewish girl. That’s it.

Rana Nawas: (05:52)
What I find extraordinary is the source of all this bullying is your “own”, you know, I say in quotes, do you know what I mean? So like women, like, you know, in theory, like you right? Egyptian women wearing the hijab, you know, and that’s where the attacks are coming from. I find that extraordinary.

Manal Rostom: (06:10)
It’s very sad as well to be honest, you know, to becoming from a fellow Egyptian and a fellow hijabi, and someone who’s been on the group for some time, it’s, it’s really sad.

Rana Nawas: (06:21)
Okay, well let’s shift gears because you’re so much bigger than that and your life is so much bigger than that. So let’s, let me ask something very basic, but I do have my reasons. So what exactly is it that you do Manal?

Manal Rostom: (06:33)
I worked as a pharmacist for about 14 years and I lost my job two years ago, and at the time before I lost my job I was sort of like balancing it out, so I was doing fitness on the side. I was working part time for Nike and I had like a few fitness classes that I was running, you know, on the weekends. So when I lost my job I wanted to venture into that industry a little bit and I’ve been doing okay. So I’m currently a personal trainer and a fitness instructor. My parents are not very happy, of course. My Arab parents are not very happy about it. They want me to go back to being like a corporate person with a nine to six or nine to five, steady income, insurance and all the security. But I don’t know, like, I feel like I’m 38. I’ve tried that, you know, for a bit. I don’t know, I may or may not go back to corporates at the moment, things are working out for me. I’m not going to say quite well, but enough to give me the standard of living that I want.

Rana Nawas: (07:29)
Okay. Now that’s your job, but you do a lot of other stuff too. I mean mountains. Marathon. How many mountains have you climbed?

Manal Rostom: (07:35)
I’ve climbed seven mountains, I’ve run 11 marathons.

Rana Nawas: (07:38)
Okay. And do you have a goal in doing these marathons, for example?

Manal Rostom: (07:43)
Honestly, when I first started off with specifically mountain climbing, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I just wanted to climb Kilimanjaro. I was looking at pictures, pretty pictures and I thought it was going to be a pretty experience. You go take photos and you come down, turned out to be a brutal experience. Thought I would never climb a mountain again after Kilimanjaro. Never, like, I mean I climbed. I was like, this is, this is not for me. Like, you know, you’re camping. There are no toilets and like, how do you say it in English? But as someone who grew up in the Gulf, I’m a very, I used to be a very spoiled girl. You know, I need my wipes, I need my water. I need my.

Rana Nawas: (08:19)
That’s funny that you should mention that because I climbed Kilimanjaro in 2007.

Manal Rostom: (08:22)
Oh Wow. Nice.

Rana Nawas: (08:24)
Yeah. And I summitted and all of that. But what I found was the boredom got to me, walking hours and hours every day. I found it really, really boring.

Manal Rostom: (08:33)
No. It doesn’t bore me. I just get very, it’s very therapeutic for me. I reflect on so many things. I come out with a lot of epiphanies, I feel like I’m completely, completely like replenished, you know, like my whole identity and things that have been hanging on my mind, you know?

Rana Nawas: (08:52)
So after that horrible experience in Kili, what took you to the next mountain?

Manal Rostom: (08:57)
Yeah. I mean, you know, you come down and you don’t realize how proud people are of you, you know, and then the messages keep coming and I’m like, hm, I’ll see. Like, you know, they keep asking you. So like what’s next? What’s next for you? And honestly, I didn’t think that there’d be anything next for me. But then the summer after a group of friends were going to Mount Kenya, and Kenya is the second highest peak in Africa, and honestly I had nothing to do in summer. So I was like asking my dad, like, what should I do, you know, this group of friends, they’re going. And he was like, okay, go with them. Like, really? Okay, let’s go. And then it became a second mountain. Then I sort of felt like, wait, this is becoming my thing, you know? And then I did my third mountain, Mount Elbrus, which is the highest in Russia. And then after that I did Everest base camp, and then I attempted Mount Aconcagua, but I wasn’t a very successful across South America. And then I did Toukbal, and then I did Jebel Shams in Oman. And then I just came from Mont Blanc in the Alps, last September.

Rana Nawas: (10:01)
Ah, great. And you summitted?

Manal Rostom: (10:03)
Yeah, Hamdullah. I had the perfect, perfect weather conditions. First Egyptian woman, you know, to summit.

Rana Nawas: (10:10)
So you’re the first Egyptian woman to summit Mont Blanc?

Manal Rostom: (10:12)

Rana Nawas: (10:12)

Manal Rostom: (10:13)
With a lot of pride, I say it because honestly it was, it was so tough.

Rana Nawas: (10:17)
Because you need crampons. I mean it’s a technical climb.

Manal Rostom: (10:19)
Yeah, yeah, 100 percent technical, and then there’s a bit where you’re properly like rock climbing and it’s in the dark, like I remember coming down after we summitted, and I kept asking the guide, are you sure, we came up this way because when we went up, it was like 3:00 AM and w,e couldn’t see anything, and we were properly like, rock climbing. He’s like this is the exact route that we went up from.

Rana Nawas: (10:38)
When you were on Mont Blanc and you broke down, what kept you going? You know, when you thought, I can’t go on, how’d you keep going?

Manal Rostom: (10:47)
So I have like nieces and nephews who really look up to me and for them to have like an auntie who like climbs mountains. I remember, my cousin’s son, I call him my nephew because he’s obviously like my nephew. But I remember when he knew that I was going to climb a mountain. He’s like, make sure you eat a lot of chicken and drink water. And, you know, and it just touched me so much that he was saying it with a lot of heart, and his voice was just like ringing in my head. Like I was like, oh my God, like, imagine failing this little boy, you know. And, what I love about it the most is we grew up with male icons, like role models, for the longest time, but here I am changing that a little bit. Like I love it when little boys look at me and I’m their role model, you know, as opposed like, do you know what I mean? And it’s really amazing for a little boy to have a female role model. I think it’s, I think it’s fascinating.

Rana Nawas: (11:49)
You’re known globally as a cool and hip hijabi wearer. I don’t know if you know that. For listeners who don’t know the hijab that we’ve been talking about for some time, it’s the Muslim headscarf. What prompted you to put on the hijab?

Manal Rostom: (12:05)
So honestly, just just for people to know, like I grew up in a British school, like I actually grew up hating the whole hijab thing and I never saw myself wearing it and, I remember like we would watch documentaries and I’d look at the women that were featured who are Ara,b and I’m like, I don’t want to ever look like that or be perceived this way. But then when I was 19 years old I had an accident, so it sort of like turned things around for me because it was like a wake up call. Like I didn’t know, you know, like how to say thank you to God. Five minutes before the accident, I had swapped seats with my cousin, so he moved backwards and I moved ahead and when the front tire blew up, five minutes later, Mohammed broke his two bones in his spine and he was paralyzed on the spot. Nothing happened to me. My Dad broke six ribs and his shoulder bone. So the whole family was impacted and then Mohammed passed away like three months later. So for me that was like, wait a second, like God gave me a second chance in life and a second chance to live, why? You know, and how am I dealing with it. So it was very hard for me to face my community and be like, you know, I’m going to wear the hijab because I was like known as the loudest. I had my own band, you know, crazy hair.

Rana Nawas: (13:29)
Band? What did you play?

Manal Rostom: (13:32)
I didn’t play. I was a singer.

Rana Nawas: (13:33)
Oh fantastic.

Manal Rostom: (13:35)
I sand. I kep,t like, you know, like researching and, and getting familiar with why we actually were and it made sense to me for the first time ever. It actually made sense and I started to feel like naked without it. But it took me about a year and a half. So when I was 21 I decided to wear hijab and it was a shock to everyone, including my parents who were not really on board.

Rana Nawas: (13:56)
Really, Your parents? So your mom doesn’t wear it?

Manal Rostom: (14:00)
My mom wrore it when she was about like in her late forties. So for me to go to her at 21 and be like, you know, I want to wear, it was a bit of a shock, you know.

Rana Nawas: (14:10)
Now it’s not been an easy road for you, because in 2014, you nearly took it off. But instead of taking it off, you started a facebook support group we talked about earlier, the Surviving Hijab group. So the choice of the word survive is obviously very poignant. For people who don’t wear the hijab, maybe you could explain to us, what are the challenges for today’s woman in wearing the Muslim headscarf?

Manal Rostom: (14:34)
I think, like in a nutshell, you judge a woman by, by how she looks and you know, if a woman covers, I feel like immediately, you know, she’s perceived as uncool or uneducated or unapproachable, things that are not true for the everyday hijabi woman. I’m not like that. I’m very approachable, actually. I will come and say hello to you and I hate these stereotypes like surrounding hijabi woman. On a more serious note, women are still banned in Egypt and Dubai and Europe from either entering certain places or having certain jobs. I’ll give you examples, so for example in Egypt, some posh hotels, they do not allow women to swim in their burkinis and this still is going on and on and it even though it hasn’t actually affected me directly, but via the group, a lot of women are always complaining, you know, that they’ve gone to X hotel and they were banned. What can we do?

Rana Nawas: (15:29)
Well that’s really interesting because they tried to do that in the south of France and it didn’t work. In France, they had to repeal that ban. And yet it exists in Egypt.

Manal Rostom: (15:37)
It still exists in Egypt.

Rana Nawas: (15:38)
Which is a Muslim country, western sort of secular or Christian heritage countries are more tolerant of this than actual Middle Eastern Muslims.

Manal Rostom: (15:47)
They have like a different pool for if you want to swim in your burkini, you can go swim in a different pool. So these kinds of things, they really bother me, like whether I was a hijabi or not, I don’t think it’s right. When I was in Geneva, I met up with a few girls in Switzerland and they were telling me that they were banned from jobs like journalism just because they cover and, I also met a Swiss convert and she’s also suffering because she’s white and she covers and she still doesn’t get, you know, the same sort of treatment as a normal Swiss citizen. In the UAE, according to the law here, I think there are some places that do not allow Hijabi woman in, if alcohol is served. I would disagree with this law because you’re flying on Emirates. Let’s say the guy next to you, you’re on a 14 hour flight. The guy next to you is drinking. What are you going to do? Stop the plane in the middle of the air and ask to come down because you’re Muslim and you can’t be around alcohol. So we tend, we have to bend the rules. It doesn’t work like that. You know, you’re offending people, you know, by it. Like for example, our last summer, this summer, I was actually told to take off my hijab before I enter a certain place here in Dubai. And I was like, excuse me, what? Like this is like my bra. Yeah, you can’t tell me to just like take it off. He wasn’t an Arab and obviously like escalated to management and the management came back to me and they apologized. But I mean it’s the 21st century. I am who I am and these things still happen, you know.

Rana Nawas: (17:20)
I get it. So let’s talk a little bit more about Surviving Hijab. How did your group of 80 friends grow to a 600,000 strong community of women around the world of whom my understand many are veiled and some are not.

Manal Rostom: (17:32)
So basically there was, I felt like there was, like a plague in 2014, that was hitting, you know, the community, like women were taking off their hijab and it was going to affect me, but I chose to like, you know, stand up against it, and you know, we added like we hand picked 80 women and it was based on like women adding women adding women. And I remember waking up the next morning after I created the group and it was a thousand women. I’m like, wait, where did they come from? You know, I didn’t, I didn’t really understand how these groups work. Now, we obviously have like a certain restriction on who is to join the group or not. But I have a very tolerant tool. You don’t have to be Muslim, ,you don’t have to be covered. You obviously have to be a woman and you have to support other women, and their choice to one, exercise their faith in whichever way they want and look the way that they want. So even if you walk naked in the street, you’re not hurting anyone, you’re not harming yourself. I’m cool with that. And that’s it. So I think because like, there was an issue in the society, and people were too scared to speak up, so when Survigving Hijab came through,

Rana Nawas: (18:45)
you gave them a voice.

Manal Rostom: (18:46)

Rana Nawas: (18:46)
Okay. And so what do you have any practical tips you can share with listeners on how to build a community group on facebook?

Manal Rostom: (18:55)
I would like up until last Friday, I would say just be as transparent as you can possibly be, even though, you know, my transparency is now working against me because I think I give them zero filters and too much transparency, and now that’s working against me. I hope I don’t lose that still. But yeah, I would, I would say like definitely, definitely just try to keep that real, you know, speak from the heart, always have strict rules and a strict policy and the kind of people that you want in your community. Because at the end of the day, these are not their personal accounts, you know? So no, it’s not okay for you to come and like harass other members or no, it’s not okay for you to come in and you know, like judge or call people names. It’s not right. You know, you can do that on your account and you can get away with even though you can’t actually because people can report to you, but I’m trying to keep it clean. It’s super hard to manage right now and I’m really suffering. But just keep it, you know, happy.

Rana Nawas: (19:55)
I’m sorry, when you say it’s super hard to manage right now. Do you mean because of the number of people?

Manal Rostom: (20:00)
Like as we speak, we have pending 4,800 posts pending that needs to be reviewed and approved.

Rana Nawas: (20:07)
Who reviews all these posts?

Manal Rostom: (20:08)
So I have two other admins who are working with me. Obviously we work for free. They don’t really like me right now because I haven’t been listening to them. So I don’t know what’s going to happen with that. And then I have three moderators

Rana Nawas: (20:21)
And every single post has to be reviewed?

Manal Rostom: (20:23)
You have to, you know, because you don’t want to be offensive or offending anyone. And a lot of people use the platform for their own advantage to like advertise, you know, because it’s a great platform to advertise. So it’s very hard for us to like monitor all this.

Rana Nawas: (20:37)
Yep. So you are the first hijabi model of Nike, which is huge and awesome. How did that, how did that come about?

Manal Rostom: (20:47)
So when I founded Surviving Hijab, I felt like it gave me a voice and it made me very strong, like whatever thoughts that I had or doubts. You know, you keep asking yourself, for example, if you can’t find a pair of trousers that you’ve been wanting, let’s say it’s a weird color, like let’s say one side is pink, the other side is blue, but you don’t have the courage to ask someone why aren’t you making that. Because it’s weird. Right? So for the longest time we’ve been looking at campaigns that featured zero covered women, you know, zero Arab women even. And it’s always like women either with the hot shorts, exercise bras. This is not me. I climb mountains, I run marathons, I can’t see someone who looks like me in these campaigns. So up until Surviving Hijab, I had the courage to speak up, so I sent them an email, and I obviously attached a link to the group. I attached a few photos of myself and I said like, my question to you is why aren’t you featuring Muslim hijabi women. I’m not talking about perhaps global campaigns, but at least in the Middle East. And I found, I got the email by someone who worked with them and she was very kind. Her name is Selma, she was very kind to pass on the email of Coach Tom Wolf, he’s the Head of Coaches in the Middle East, and he picked up the email and he responded and that’s how the conversation started. And then he invited me wanting to meet up with me. We met up, and then I became the first ever model to appear in Nike Middle East Campaign in January 2015. And then they offered me the role as first ever hijabi trainer and Nike run club coach in March 2015 based on the certifications that I was working on besides my pharma, you know.

Rana Nawas: (22:24)
Of course you were still employed in pharma at the time. Wow. So, you became a Nike model while you were still in pharma. Let’s talk about your pharma experience. What was that like and what was it like wearing the hijab in, in the corporate world?

Manal Rostom: (22:38)
It never really posed honestly any, any problems for me to be honest. I was working for one of the top multinational companies. They really promoted diversity a lot, you know, they supported women and they supported people from different walks of life basically. So I was never told you can’t do this, or you can’t do that. It was a bit weird when I first got in because they were like, I don’t know how, you know, doctors are gonna take you seriously or not because you’re too serious. I’m like, what’s that supposed to mean? You know, like, because I started off as a rep, so like a medical rep or sales rep, I feel like it’s offensive for women in general to, to tell her that if you’re not veiled, you know you’re going to be taken a different way as a woman who veiled, who does the same job. It’s so wrong. I don’t know what happened towards the end actually. I felt like I started to become stronger in my own right or have a stronger opinion and not be scared to share it. And I think that pissed off a lot of people and, where I could be perceived as strong, I was perceived as aggressive and I hated that.

Rana Nawas: (23:42)
Yeah. Well unfortunately that’s an affliction of the corporate world, where strong women are often branded as aggressive, because men and women don’t know how to deal with that.

Manal Rostom: (23:54)
Yeah. I don’t know. It really bothers me, you know, like you strike up a conversation with a man and then all of a sudden, I don’t know if it’s their way out of the conversation is like why are you being aggressive. It’s like, wait a second, I’m not being aggressive, I’m just telling you how I feel and I’m trying to like, you know, bring my point across to you in a very neutral tone but serious. And the first thing they say is like, ah, you’re being very aggressive.

Rana Nawas: (24:20)
No. So honestly, it’s not you, it’s them. It’s the corporate world. Did you learn much from your 14 years in corporate?

Manal Rostom: (24:30)
Yeah. One hundred percent.

Rana Nawas: (24:31)
What did you learn?

Manal Rostom: (24:32)
I don’t know, like a lot of communication skills, you know, like, I became very independent, you know, like as I worked my way up, you know, like up the career ladder, I became much more independent. They gave me the strength to move from Kuwait to Dubai. I live on my own and I’m still living on my own, something that I would have never ever, ever imagined. So I came here when I was 31 and I’m 38 now, so it’s been about seven years on my own. I obviously visit my parents and they come to visit, but like the bulk of the time I’m by myself and that’s something that I never ever, ever thought.

Rana Nawas: (25:08)
And you don’t have any family at all in Dubai?

Manal Rostom: (25:10)
No. Zero. Yeah. And you know, it’s, it’s quite shocking because you know, you would think that you’d be married by a certain age or when these things don’t actually happen for you, and then you’re still by yourself and you’re still working it out and you’re still successful. You’re still paying the bills on your own. It makes you feel very proud, you might get a little bit sad, you know, maybe sometime around the time of the month or whatever, but like you’re very proud, you know. So I feel I owe this to being a corporate employee for, for a long time.

Rana Nawas: (25:45)
Well let’s talk about this sort of mythical path of every woman that every Arab parent wants for their daughter. So is it the parents or is it the world at large?

Manal Rostom: (25:58)
I think it’s society, you know. I think like, so I’m turning 39 end of the month and, it’s shocking because it’s the last year in my thirties and you know, to be quite frank, like I never thought that, you know, my twenties would go without me being married and then my thirties are going without me being married. So it’s kind of sad. But at the same time, who made it sad? Society, you know, society is the one thing that said, oh, you need to be married by 30, in whose books? I don’t get it. Like when you think about it

Rana Nawas: (26:33)
Or at all?

Manal Rostom: (26:34)
Yeah, exactly. Well, I mean I am for marriage, like I do want to get married and I obviously want to have kids, but like these things are really uncontrollable, you know, I’m not going to go into tinder, one because I’m famous a little bit, you know, but like I don’t want to use these apps. I try to be as outgoing as I possibly can, but I don’t know, like these things are really out of your control, just like the sun comes out, the moon comes down, whatever. I just feel like that. So yes, obviously my mom must be a bit, not a bit, but quite disappointed that I probably failed her, you know, like you spend your twenties trying to check boxes. So I checked, you know, the university that I didn’t really like, but I did it anyway. Masters degree check, got the job, you know, but then my twenties flew, and I’m like, wait a second, you know, I didn’t do anything for me. Like where are the mountains, where are the marathons. And by the way I was told when I was 28 or 27, I don’t remember that I’m never going to be able to climb mountains that I’m not allowed to climb mountains and I’m going to say it in Arabic, “ma fish banat batitla3 gibal” Okay, meaning like there are no women who climb mountains. Who put these rules and,

Rana Nawas: (27:43)
Sorry, who told you that?

Manal Rostom: (27:44)
My Dad. Having said that, now he’s completely on board. I managed to convert him. I managed to make the shift. So now he’s actually completely on board. He’s willing and happy, you know, to support me in my journey because you have an open conversation with them, you know. So you ask open questions and what are you scared of? Ah you’re going to be out of reach? No, I won’t. We have satellite phones. We have this, we have that.

Rana Nawas: (28:08)
It is extraordinary. It is extraordinary, really that society and parents and everybody looks at a woman and judges her success or failure based on things that are indeed completely out of her control. Whether you meet someone or not, you know, whether you can have children or not. You know, I myself, I met my husband at the age of 33. We got married, I was 34, at my last kid, I was 37, maybe. So, it is extraordinary, these parameters that we live by. You’ve confronted Nike on their diversity agenda. You’re trained to climb Mount Everest. Are you fearless Manal? Or is there something that scares you?

Manal Rostom: (28:46)
I am scared of the mountains, like I was very scared of Mont Blanc, like, I was very slow and because I’m anemic, my hemoglobin drops rapidly when I’m on the mountain, and I tend to lose all my strength. Like I can start off being one of the strongest and then towards the end like my strength really really diminishes. So I was quite slow and I remember the guide looked at me and he said we are turning around at 10:30 and it was like 10, and we still had like peaks and peaks because like, you know, mobile is like up and down, up and down until you reached the top. It was horrific. And then I just started crying like there, I was trying to make history by becoming the first Egyptian woman, you know, by the way I’m claiming it because I put it out there on social media and I said if no one claims it within the first 48 hours because as an active member of the mountaineer society, like I know obviously like I know of all the Egyptian mountaineers, male and female and, no one claimed it. So that’s what I’m claiming it with an open heart. I don’t know if she exists, she listens to this. If you’ve climbed Mont Blanc, please let us know. I’m happy. I’m happy to take a second place. So yeah. So I was scared not to make it because of the way that my body was performing. But you know, the dream is there, other people have done it. The question is why can’t I also do it?

Rana Nawas: (30:07)
Fair question. So if you could change one thing in the world to make life better for women, what would it be?

Manal Rostom: (30:14)
Just stop judging, like women based on color or religion or their choices in life. You know, so what if they’re divorced? So what if they’re single, so what if they’re covered? So what if they’re naked, you know, like as long as they’re not harming anybody, you know, so what if they have like 10,000 tattoos all over their bodies. I feel there is so much more stress and pressure on women than there are on men. And I just don’t think it’s fair, you know, and, but I feel like there’s a change that’s coming through and, and I feel it coming and I’m, I’m very happy with the change.

Rana Nawas: (30:51)
Yeah. Are you a reader, Manal? What’s a book that everybody should read?

Manal Rostom: (31:01)
So, Eat, Pray, Love changed me a lot. Like it just like really opened my horizons when I was, I think I read it when I was 29 or 30. I just really liked this whole open perspective about being fearless and taking time off work and you know, just adventuring in the world, learning a new language, gaining weight than falling in love in Indonesia and Bali. Like I just felt it was, it was so amazing. I read a lot of self help books, so I just read Crushing It. Yeah, which, I really, really loved also because it links how we can always hustle to make things work. Whether or not you decide to give up your corporate job or not, you know, especially that we are in the social media era where everything is basically working via social media.

Rana Nawas: (31:53)
Who’s the author?

Manal Rostom: (31:54)
Um, what’s his name? Gary V.

Rana Nawas: (31:59)
Oh, I love that guy. Who is a woman that’s influenced you?

Manal Rostom: (32:03)

Rana Nawas: (32:04)
Really? No, that’s not what I would’ve expected. Tell me why.

Manal Rostom: (32:08)
I feel like Madonna, like she had to literally eat crap to reach where, you know, she reached and she’s still up there even though she’s like 60 years old and she has not come down the throne. She’s the queen and she continues to be the queen. I love how she’s super self-made. You know, her parents are not rich or famous. I love her collaborations with other singers. You know, she’s very confident in her own skin. Very outspoken. Doesn’t care. Say says it as it is, whether or not the, you know, there are naysayers were haters. She, she makes it happen.

Rana Nawas: (32:45)
I mean, she dealt with a lot of haters coming up. Remember when she was in the eighties and what she was doing was extremely controversial. Right? She’s definitely, she’s one of my heroes too, all through my life. So this has been amazing, Manal. Thank you so much for coming on the show. Where can listeners find you?

Manal Rostom: (33:06)
So, instagram, I live there pretty much like day in, day out. I’m always on my instagram. It’s @manirostom. We also have a Surviving Hijab instagram account, it’s @survivinghijab. And, of course my facebook page, and my personal page.

Rana Nawas: (33:26)
Awesome. Well thank you again.

Manal Rostom: (33:28)
Thank you so much.

Rana Nawas: (33:29)
Thank you. I hope you enjoyed today’s episode. I’d love to hear from you. So please head over to to give feedback. While you’re there, you can find all episodes and show notes and sign up for a monthly newsletter. Wherever you’re listening right now, do remember to hit the subscribe button to be notified of future episodes and please write a review when you can to let others know what to expect. Thanks and have a great day.

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