Eunice Olsen on empowering girls and her new book 'I'm a Girl. See what I can be!'

"There are two issues that are very close to my heart – women’s empowerment and special needs..."

Back in 2000, a stunningly beautiful woman won the Miss Singapore Universe pageant. She is none other than Eunice Olsen. Since then, Eunice has not looked back, firmly making her mark across the realms of politics, media and entertainment, and civil rights in Singapore. 

Her most recent project comes in the form of a book I’m a Girl. See what I can be! It champions two very important topics: empowering girls and special needs.

Naturally, we wanted to find out more about this book and what led her to write it. Here’s theAsianparent’s very interesting interview with the powerhouse who is Eunice Olsen.

eunice olsen interview

In 2004, Eunice was appointed as a Nominated Member of Parliament in Singapore. She was the youngest ever NMP, appointed at the age of 27. In 2008, Olsen was the proud recipient of the prestigious ASEAN Youth Award.

Actress, TV Host, former Miss Singapore Universe, Former NMP, activist, and now author! You wear many hats. Which role do you enjoy the most, and why?

Everything that I’ve had the privilege to experience has made me the person I am today and the company that I started is an amalgamation of all the work I’ve done in the past 18 years. I’ve gained so much perspective from all the different roles and I can’t imagine not having experienced any one of them.

Please tell us about your project* I’m a Girl. See what I can be! What was your inspiration for this book?

I’m a Girl. See what I can be! is a series of poems inspired by the stories of the unsung “sheroines” that I’ve interviewed over the years on my programme WomenTalk.

WomenTalk is a video and podcast interview series that I started six years ago. I wanted to share these inspiring stories to encourage girls and boys from a younger age all over the world to know they can be who they want to be and to never give up.

There are two issues that are very close to my heart – women’s empowerment and special needs – and I’ve had the privilege to work with different special needs communities over the years and I’ve always been very impressed with their creativity.

After I wrote the poems, it was very clear to me that the best people to illustrate the book would be our differently abled friends. I’ve always believed that art and music does not discriminate against abilities.

Among the incredible Asian women featured in her book are Lek, who runs a sanctuary for elephants in Chiang Mai, Thailand and is known as the “Elephant Mother”;  See Too Hoi Siang Joanna, a Chinese opera artist in Singapore, who has dedicated her life to keeping this traditional art form alive; and  Lily Goh, the founder of ExtraOrdinary Horizons, a social enterprise in Singapore which advocates on the behalf of the deaf community.

In her book, Eunice features some incredible women from around Asia. They are bound to inspire a new generation of girls and young women.

Growing up in Singapore, as a girl child, did you ever feel deprived of the many privileges that boys enjoy?

Not once. My mum and dad never ever made me feel like because I was a girl I could only do certain things or behave in a certain way.

Till today, they’ve always encouraged me to be who I want to be and in fact my dad told me that because he’s never stopped me from doing what I believe in, that no other man should have any power over me. I’ve also always appreciated the fact that as a woman and a minority in Singapore, I have access to opportunities and to safety.

eunice olsen interview

“The stories of the women in the book highlight values of resilience, trying, compassion, humility, courage, hard work and not giving up.”

Why have you focused on the girl child in this book? In your opinion, how can parents teach their children to empower themselves?

If we look at our world today, we still have a long way to go to getting to gender parity. In many aspects of society, women still need more opportunities to get onto the playing field, to have a chance at a fair game.

Also, WomenTalk reaches out mainly to girls 15 and above and I felt I wanted to reach out to younger girls at the beginning of their journey to becoming the woman they are meant to be.

In children’s literature, there’s not a lot of female role models out there, especially from Asia. I hope these stories will give young girls and boys in Asia real-life role models to look up to as all of us need role models in our lives.

Parents can encourage them to grow into who they want to be and not limit the scope of their child’s dreams based on preceonceived gender stereotypes. It’s all about using the right language and being aware of our own unconscious biases.

I think it’s also encouraging kids to try new things whether they know they’re going to succeed or not, and allowing them to fail and to find their way. The stories of the women in the book highlight values of resilience, trying, compassion, humility, courage, hard work and not giving up. These are real examples that I hope the kids and parents can draw inspiration from.

Female role models you have looked up to?

My mum and grandmother. My mother’s motto in life is You Only Live Once. She is very adventurous and is not afraid to try new things. My grandmother was an entrepreneur and is a very progressive person. Both of them have always encouraged me to do what I believe in and to be happy.

eunice olsen interview

We can’t wait to see I’m a Girl. See what I can be! flying off the shelves! We know it’s going to inspire lots of young women out there.

It’s the 21st century, and yet, girls have to be repeatedly assured that they can be whoever they want to be. Why is this so? What can we do as a society to attain gender equality?

We live in a largely patriarchial society and gender equality is not always a priority in our conversations. This however is changing as globally, more women and men are speaking up, and more leaders and governments are prioritising gender equality in their policies.

Gender equality does make good economic sense but it is also something that should be the norm. Since gender equality is the #5 Sustainable Development Goal, the kids today will be growing up admidst this global conversation. Since we want our education system to reflect what’s happening globally, I hope the book will be a start of their journey to becoming more aware of the realities of our world.

I have always believed that it’s the little things we do together that make the bigger difference. Everyone of us can do what we can with what we know and that’s the only way that change can happen.

Your thoughts on becoming a mum, and parenting?

I have always been open to it, but I’m currently running two businesses and now a book, and they are like my children to me! I am also privileged to sponsor three families in Cambodia.

 

*Eunice wanted to crowdfund the book to build a community around the book, to create awareness and to gauge interest.  And so far, the response and the support for the book has been very encouraging. You too can support her in this worthy cause, here

We’d like to thank Eunice for this interview and for telling us all about ‘I’m a Girl. See what I can be!’. We can’t wait to see the book hit the shelves and inspire generation of girls and young women.