Wednesday, April 10, 2019

I stand on the shoulders of many women - Comments from the 2019 Marin Women's Hall of Fame Induction and Celebration


2019 Marin Women’s Hall of Fame
Women of Distinction Induction and Celebration Dinner
Thursday, March 28, 2019, San Rafael, CA

Recently, I was honored to be inducted into the Marin Women’s Hall of Fame during a gala attended by 450 guests in San Rafael, CA. I am truly humbled to be among an extraordinary group of awardees, who are not only highly accomplished, but who also contribute so much to our community and to the world. We all felt incredibly special following in the footsteps of such great leaders such as Senator Barbara Boxer. Moreover, my introduction by a high school senior, Makena Cusick, was unquestionably the highlight of my evening, as I witnessed her brimming with incredible sophistication, intellect and presence, characteristics of a future leader.

These were my comments upon my induction.

Whenever we receive such an honor, we pause and wonder how we got there? How did I get from Alexandria, Egypt to standing in front of a podium with such a select group? For me it is family, community and friends.

First and foremost, I have an incredible, loving family.

My husband, Mahmoud, my partner for 55 years, supported and enabled me. I will be forever grateful to him. This award is for him, as much as it is for me. Our sons Waleed and Sherief gave us such joy, which energized us and kept us moving forward. Then, they expanded our family through their soul mates, the amazing, loving and accomplished Dr. Deena Emera and Paula Meleis.

I am also here because Marin County was so hospitable and welcoming when we immigrated from Egypt and migrated from Los Angeles - and I hope it continues to be warm and hospitable toward today’s immigrants, legal or not!

Our dear Marin friends continued including us in their lives when we migrated to the East Coast during the past 16 years - and they quickly made sure we reintegrated in Marin when we returned. We are indebted to them for their generosity, love and support.

If our dear friend, Joan Brown, did not invite me to the Executive Women of Marin’s “Wednesday Morning Dialogues,” where I met their president, Margy Eller, also the president of the American Association of University Women (AAUW), she would not have known me or nominated me. I am grateful to her.

I am definitely here because of my passion for supporting nurses’ voices, work, education and research. Nurses - all 20 million of us around the world - are the heart and the soul of the health care system. We have been voted the most trusted professionals for at least the past 10 years.

I am also here because of my compassion for empowering women globally, and positioning their issues front and center. This is no coincidence since 90% of nurses are women and 70 % of family caregivers are women.

I am enabled to be here because I stand on the shoulders of 100’s of women who made it possible for me to act on this passion and compassion.
  • I stand on the shoulders of the many housekeepers, who were immigrants and refugees. They cleaned our house, washed our laundry and freed me to do the work I cared about - and they inspired me with their can-do determination.
  • I stand on the shoulders of the many administrative assistants and chiefs of my offices, who organized me and insured that I was always well prepared for all of my roles - including my global research.
  • I stand here on the shoulders of the many fisherman’s wives in Brazil, Por Día maids in Columbia, nurse assistants in Mexico, immigrant women in California and clerical workers in Egypt, Kuwait and the USA, who entrusted me with narratives about their lives - narratives that included marginalization, oppression, devaluation, violence, trafficking and under compensation - and narratives about resilience and creativity in transcending all obstacles to raise healthy and accomplished children. Their can-do attitudes inspired me.
  • I stand here on the shoulders of 100’s of mentees from all over the world, who taught me how to be a better mentor. They proceeded to exceed my capacity, as they became the best mentors and leaders and they continued to be an important and inspiring part of my life.

Because I stand on so many strong shoulders of so many strong women, I extend my deepest gratitude to them and I accept this award for all of them and on behalf of them.

This is really an award about women supporting women, and about women who continue to make the world a better place to live. What an incredible honor.


Afaf Meleis and her family, friends and mentees at the
2019 Marin Women's Hall of Fame Induction and Celebration


Thursday, December 13, 2018

Malaysia – The Recurrent Themes and Challenges Nurses Face

I land in Kuala Lumpur at midnight, after a 22-hour journey from San Francisco, via Tokyo, and I enjoy a warm reception from a faculty member and an undergraduate student, who escort me in a University car for the hour drive to my hotel, which is close to the UKM Medical Center and University. New, modern and still under construction, my hotel has a well-equipped gym, an absolute must when I travel, and a magnificent pool overlooking the city.

The reason for this trip, and for most trips I make to many corners of the world, is to honor invitations, to inspire women, to empower nurses, to dialogue with colleagues and to learn about the progress and the challenges affecting nursing and health care. Another reason for my travels is to consider together, with my international colleagues, the progress made toward achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. In particular, how well are we progressing toward universal health care access, lower maternal and infant mortality rates, reduced disparities, the elimination of violence against women and equal participation of women, nurses and midwives in policy and decision making arenas. Thus begins my mission in each country, organization, conference and workshop I visit. I use this blog to share what I learn from my global colleagues, culturally, socially and intellectually.

On my first morning, while feasting my eyes on panoramic views of the high-rise buildings dotting the Kuala Lumpur skyline, I enjoy breakfast, where I listen to many conversations in Malaysian, Cantonese, English, Arabic and many Indian languages. It is here that I realize rice and noodles are staples for all meals of the day. It makes me wonder how rice affects health outcomes. I may ask my colleagues. But of course fruits and vegetables are also plentiful in this tropical climate.

Kuala Lumpur has well paved streets and highways, with close to 7 million inhabitants. It boasts traffic jams at all times of the day – not much different from the I-76 Schuylkill Expressway in Philadelphia, Route 101 in San Francisco or Abou Kir in Alexandria. The patience and enthusiasm of my hosts wipes away any of my frustrations about slow moving traffic and my fears of motorcycles zipping between cars (even though they all wear helmets).

The issues confronting nurses in Malaysia are similar to what I hear from colleagues in most other countries. The timing might be different, as these issues challenged U.S. nurses in the 70’s, and more countries may have identified them in the 80’s. Other countries, like Malaysia, face them in the present. Here are my top observations regarding the themes and challenges Malaysian nurses face:


  • Diploma and degree graduates are divided by a sense of superiority of one group over the other, because of a confrontation between experience verses education. Haven’t we already lived through these internal oppressions???
  • Salary classification reflects hospital preparation and educational advancement does not augment salary.
  • Leadership positions are given to hospital graduates.
  • There is a rift between hospital and university graduates, which is cultivating an environment that may stall progress in the nursing profession.
  • The Board of Nursing, which creates and implements policies related to nurses and nursing, is chaired by physicians and is populated by hospital graduates – a powerful board that does not seem to value university education for nurses.
  • Public universities formed a council consisting of two representatives from each university school of nursing. The council develops policies that the board reviews, accepts or ignores.
  • Participants in the conference, who came from Malaysian universities, expressed frustration concerning the stagnant state of nursing education, practice and research.
  • There are increasing numbers of university graduates, as well as Ph.D. graduates. Most of these graduates obtained their education in Malaysia and are ready to make a difference; however, they do not feel valued or appropriately compensated.
  • The Minister of Health and Vice Chancellor of the University were very supportive and complimentary of nursing education. It was intriguing to hear them speak about the importance of nursing theory and scholarship.

Each of my global experiences reinforces for me how nurses continue to excel and struggle to improve health care for all. Nurses are resilient and never surrender their values for equitable education and quality health care. I raise all my hats to them.