I come from a culture of male dominance – women are (still) seen as second-class citizens in a lot of instances.
So, naturally, as a child, I hated being a girl. It seemed like my opportunities were limited to being a housewife and mother (not that there’s anything wrong with that, but for a 10-year-old with big ambitions, it sounded extremely restricting).
As I grew older, I started to pay more attention to the women around me; my mom, her friends, older cousins, and neighbors.
I realized that these women were forging ahead with their dreams, fighting for their rights, and quietly but determinedly, creating their own lives.
These women were strong.
So, do you want to know what they always stood their ground on, even though it came at the expense of disgruntled family and community members?
1) Their values and beliefs
At the heart of a strong woman is her beliefs and values.
These shape how she lives her life and how she interacts with the world.
I grew up watching my mom’s best friend – a devout Muslim woman who proudly wore her headscarf, regardless of the comments and sneers she’d face in the workplace.
On the other hand, my cousin was often pressured into being more religious than she was.
She was adamant that religion wasn’t for her, and although it took her years to forge her own path against her family’s will, she stayed true to herself.
Seeing these two examples of how strong women fight for their beliefs and values taught me that the fight may be hard, but giving in and living inauthentically is even harder.
2) Personal boundaries
Nowadays, we’re all more aware of what boundaries are and how they can benefit our well-being and relationships.
But putting them into practice is quite hard – I know because I’ve been trying to do it for the last few years. It really is an exercise in patience and self-respect.
But strong women never compromise on this.
It doesn’t matter if you throw a hissy fit, threaten to cut them off or talk trash around town about them.
They will not budge.
Is it because they’re stubborn? Hard headed? Maybe to some degree. But they need to be.
Because let’s face it, if you’re a pushover, no one will respect your boundaries.
That’s why strong women prioritize their well-being by sticking firmly to the boundaries they set, and following through when someone doesn’t respect them.
3) Career goals and ambitions
When we’re children, we’re often asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” We get creative and think of the most inspiring and fun jobs out there.
But as we get older, it becomes less about what we want and more about what we need.
We need to pay bills, support our families, save for emergencies, and so on.
That, and the pressure that family members or partners place on us can make it incredibly tough to see out our career goals and ambitions.
But this is where strong women don’t take no for an answer.
If it means they have to work harder and smarter, they’ll do it. If it means upsetting family members, society, or spouses, they’ll push on.
Because they know their goals are just as important as anyone else’s.
4) Equal rights and fair treatment
As I mentioned at the start, I come from a very traditional community, where patriarchy still reigns strong.
But I watched my mom and her friends challenge those societal norms.
If their in-laws treated them disrespectfully, they spoke up.
If they faced unfairness at work, they took the right route to make complaints and hold their employers or colleagues accountable.
They didn’t wait for equality to fall onto their laps – they fought for it.
Perhaps their struggles were small in the big scheme of things, but I believe each battle won was a step forward for women everywhere.
And it’s something I aspire to continue. Through watching these strong women, I’m now more vocal about calling out injustice, not just for women, but for people of all backgrounds and walks of life.
5) Self-respect and dignity
If there’s one thing strong women always stand their ground on, it’s maintaining their self-respect and dignity.
Disrespectful behavior? They’ll refuse to accept it.
Demeaning, sneaky, comments? They’ll call you out on it.
And don’t be mistaken, people who display disrespectful or toxic behavior usually don’t go down without a fight.
But that doesn’t put strong women off!
Not all of these women enjoy confrontation, but they’ll do it because they respect themselves enough to know they can’t let this type of behavior slide.
6) The right to choose
If you wanted to, you could allow the world to make your decisions for you. It’s easy – just follow everyone else.
This is where strong women are different.
They’re incredibly passionate about creating their own path and choosing what they want to do, whether that be with their body, their career, or their beliefs.
And they certainly don’t appreciate being told.
That’s one trait I’ve picked up from the women in my life – my sense of freedom and ability to make my own decisions is one I’d never sacrifice. Not for all the money in the world.
Because ultimately, we’ve got one life. We can’t live it for everyone else, or follow rules and societal norms that don’t serve us.
7) Prioritizing mental and physical health
While I’m lucky to have so many strong women around me, I do have a fair few who aren’t.
Women who have been beaten down, first by their parents, then by society, and finally by the crappy men in their lives.
I’ve seen how they’ve been conditioned to allow bad behavior to affect them, mentally and physically.
It’s not their fault – they simply don’t have the self-esteem, worth, and respect to fight for their well-being.
But I think it’s these examples that push other women to be strong. They see the suffering of their mothers, sisters, or friends, and make an inner promise to never go through the same.
That’s why when someone or something comes along that harms them, they’re quick to respond.
They put boundaries in place, cut out toxic people and environments, work on themselves and their health, and quite frankly, live better because of it.
8) Financial independence
Another thing that strong women always stick to is having financial independence.
It’s the first thing my mom taught me – never be reliant on anyone else for money.
Because with financial independence comes the freedom to make your own choices, and as I mentioned earlier, that’s highly important to strong women.
Even if a woman like this has a wealthy husband who can afford to pay for everything, she’ll likely still want to have her own income.
This is her safety net. If things go wrong down the road, she can pull herself out of it without being reliant on family or friends.
If she wants to take up a new hobby, buy something for herself, or invest in a new business, she can do so with her own money.
Even if it bothers her partner that she’s not reliant on him, she won’t give up on her financial freedom (but she may give up on him!).
9) Education and self-improvement
Strong women aren’t always born strong. Sure, some of it can come from personality. But most women who are resilient and determined become so due to their experiences in life.
A strong woman can also be born out of self-improvement.
That’s true for me – I had the spark in me growing up, but it’s taken many years of working on myself, my boundaries, and my mindset to become the woman I am now.
And like other strong women, anyone who threatens my self-development or access to education won’t be tolerated – no matter how much it upsets them.
As an example, one of my exes was quite happy to stay stuck in a rut. He continued negative habits and behaviors, never bothering to try anything new.
When I decided I wanted to do something different, stop bumming around and wasting my life, he tried everything to stop me. He felt threatened by my self-development.
In the end, I left because he was holding me back from achieving so much, and it was the best decision I ever made.
And finally, strong women always stand their ground when it comes to being authentic.
They’re honest about who they are, even if that “offends” some people. They don’t shy away or try to hide.
They’re not boastful, but they are dedicated to being authentic.
So when friends come along who expect them to change, they’re in for a hard dose of reality. The same goes for partners, family members, or employers.
These women own their imperfections, take responsibility for their shortcomings, and most importantly, never apologize for being themselves.
As you can see, I’m learning a lot from such women, and what a difference it’s made to my life.
Ultimately, being a strong woman is about adopting an empowering mindset.
It’s about creating a life that YOU are proud of, regardless of what the rest of the world says.