Ladies We Love is a new interview series with women from around the world that provide us inspiration through their travels and their personal stories. This month we got to know Asha Dahya of GirlTalkHQ!
Asha Dahya is the Founder & Editor-In-Chief of GirlTalkHQ, a daily women’s news media site focused on publishing only positive content. With a mission to inspire and empower women across the globe, Asha has set out to make GirlTalkHQ the go-to destination for showcasing amazing female work around the globe. Last week Asha sat down with WATG Intern Shannon to talk more about her plans for GTHQ, her advice for female entrepreneurs, her love for travel, and more!
1. Can you please tell us a bit about how you came up with the idea for GirlTalk HQ and where you hope to see it grow in the future?
I launched GirlTalkHQ in November 2012 after working in TV for most of my career. I have been a host, producer and writer for 13 years in both Australia and here in Los Angeles, working mostly in the entertainment and pop culture space, I wanted a change and was craving something deeper. During 2012-2013, I was going through a divorce and that difficult experience made me prioritize the important things in my life, while also recognizing the need for strong women around me.
As a media professional, it was very frustrating to find a lack of millennial-driven sites that catered to women like me who were going through tough times. I really wanted to find stories about other women who were doing incredible things in the world, supporting the sisterhood, and overcoming big hurdles. I realized that I had to create that online destination for myself, which is how GirlTalkHQ came about.
My mission was to provide a one-stop destination where women (and men!) could come and read any article, about any topic, and be inspired and empowered somehow.
My dream and vision for the site is to become a globally recognized destination for female empowerment news, which is starting to slowly happen, and become the number one women’s website in the world.
2. What were you doing before you started GirlTalk HQ and what was the evolution to starting your own company?
I was working for a number of well-known media brands and TV networks: MTV, Disney, Nickelodeon, ABC, Myspace, MSN, TV Guide and more. My experience during this time was invaluable, as it taught me the mechanics of being a content creator, evolving from broadcast TV to the digital world. But I always felt like I was waiting for someone else to give me an opportunity, waiting for my phone to ring and my agent to book me on an audition. I wanted to take back the control of my career trajectory by creating something using the skills I had acquired, along with the passion I was developing for sharing stories about powerful women and gender equality. I started to see a number of my contemporaries in the media world start their own online businesses and blogs and I recognized I could do this too.
3. What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Knowing that I was brave enough to take a leap of faith to create something I love working on every day. Receiving emails almost every day from companies, individuals and brands who want to work with GirlTalkHQ, or be featured on the site. I wanted to create a brand that was instantly recognizable by the content you see on the homepage and the first few stories you read. I was told my many of my fellow bloggers that most of the requests I would receive from people wanting to work with me I would have to turn down 90% of the time. But to be honest, I get to say YES to 90% of the requests that come my way, and I chalk that up to a strong message we have created with our content that people recognize right away. It’s something I find is the most rewarding, and it means we are on the right track.
4. We are so impressed by the content on GirlTalkHQ. There is a great variety of informational and thought provoking pieces. How do you decide what to publish for your viewers?
My secret is very simple: I think to myself, “what would I want to read about on a website?”. A lot of the brand messaging is based around my person passion and direction, and is then added to by my team of writers and interns who contribute. Essentially, we look for stories about women who are breaking barriers, important messages about gender equality, body positivity and women’s rights globally, and the work various women are doing in a number of fields to help make the world more equal to everyone.
5. Your site stands out from other news content due to your focus on solely positive content – something we don’t often see in the news today. Why does positive news content have a greater impact on your viewers, as compared to publishing about all news happening around the world today?
We’re not a straight-up hard news or breaking news site. There are plenty of those. We don’t want to compete with those bigger news outlets, and don’t feel we need to. Where we DO see a gap is in the type of daily content that enables people to feel empowered to do something meaningful with their lives, wherever they are and WHOever they are. While we don’t shy away from information that explains a negative situation, especially with issues like reproductive rights and women’s rights which we are passionate about. But it is our call-to-action, or pointing to the people who are working to create positive change that becomes our focus in these pieces, as well as the steps everyday readers can take.
I think this resonates well with our readers and keeps them coming back because we aren’t just doom and gloom, we present an angle that gives them hope and shows how a potentially negative situation can be turned around.
6. What advice would you give women who hope to someday work for themselves, or start their own business?
Begin with your passion. Don’t start something just because it is trendy or because someone told you to. If your passion and heart are not in it, you will end up hating it.
Start small and begin mapping out a plan of action. What kind of business do you want? Where do you see it going? Do you have a plan for growth? Is this something you want to make a decent living off and employ others? Or is it a solo effort that supplements the other work you are doing? I’m a big believer in creating plans and organizing my efforts, and it means I can better utilize my time for the things that count.
7. If you could have given yourself a piece of knowledge or advice when you started what would that be?
Don’t sweat the small stuff, and pick your battles. For every negative piece of feedback or comment we get, it is usually out-weighed by 10 positive comments. It’s was to get stuck on the parts that don’t work, but I have learned that the only way to move forward is to learn from your mistakes and do better the next time.
Also, knowing when to ask for help is something I wish I had learned earlier. We sometimes equate that with weakness, or not being able to accomplish something great by ourselves. But all the greatest entrepreneurs and business minds in the world have teams of people helping them achieve success.
8. I see that your content is completely focused on females – femininity, feminism, and female rights, yet 50% of the population is men. What role do you see them playing in the push for equality? What can our female viewers say to their boyfriends, brothers, and fathers to help us all work together for equality?
The movement for gender equality has to be led by women, and supported whole-heartedly by men. All throughout history we have seen so many movements and changes led by men, and while many of them are noble, important, and successful, we are at a point in time where women are rising up and utilizing their inherent power like never before, spurred on by our foremothers who came before us and took a stand at a time when it was unpopular or even illegal.
We need to break down myth and stigma around feminism, where people think it is about bra-burning or hating men. Those are such old stereotypes. Today, feminism is more recognized as an intersectional movement that includes the equality of minorities, or the LGBTQ community, of differently-abled people, and of refugees and immigrants.
To that end, men are absolutely part of the conversation because they have been forced to live within and adhere to such a narrow definition of masculinity and what it means to “be a man” for just as long as we’ve been told what a woman should look like.
Toxic masculinity has become an integral part of the modern feminist movement and equipping people with the language tools to discuss issues of bullying, identity, emotions, careers etc in relation to men. It’s one of the reasons why we see so many amazing men standing up and declaring they are feminists, such as Joseph Gordon Levitt, John Legend, President Obama, Benedict Cumberbatch, Aziz Ansari, Justin Trudeau, and many more.
The thing about equality is, it benefits EVERYONE, not just women. The United Nations released a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, with the aim of working to eradicate global poverty by 2030. One of the key components of this ongoing effort is the recognition that economic empowerment of women specifically, is going to make this possible. We have enough studies and research to now know, that in the developing world and in traditionally socially conservative cultures, when women and girls have the opportunity to get an education, and earn money outside the home at the same rate as men, families are lifted out of poverty, communities thrive, and entire nations’ GDP increases where more and more people are given the chance to participate in the economy. This is just one example of how equality, and pushing for women’s rights, can be beneficial to everyone.
In our developed societies and in the West, while the focus may not be the same as the developing world, there are numerous ways men and women can join together to ensure equality is a reality, not just an ideal.
9. You are so positive about your work for GirlTalk HQ – and you have really grown the company to amazing new heights in the past 4 years. What keeps you motivated everyday to continuing pushing the company forward?
Honestly, the women and the stories we get to write about everyday. Each one has a unique and powerful message to share with the world and we want to do our part in making sure it is given a platform. With so much negativity and hate and sadness in the world today, especially for many of us in the United States post-election, I have been reminded that our work is more important than ever. We’re seeing an increase in requests to be featured on our site, and to have us involved in various community events around Los Angeles where we are based.
10. While the younger generations seem to think gender equality is ingrained into their daily life, it is still a pressing issue in our society today. What can girls do on a regular basis to promote equality of the sexes? How can we use each other as a resource in this push for equality?
A lot of it starts with listening and getting to know people who are different to us. Everyone has a unique and powerful story and life journey. The more we are open to hearing what others are going through, the more empathy we will develop. We shouldn’t have to live in a world where we need to only personally experience something to be passionate about it or want to make a change. I’m excited to see so many young men and women becoming socially active, spurred on by the way social media allows us to become exposed to many issues. We’re seeing it with the North Dakota Access Pipeline protests at Standing Rock, with Black Lives Matter, with the fight for immigrant and refugee rights, and much more. For girls out there who are reading this and want to get involved, start with your own social circle and your community. Find a need and fill it. We can’t assume someone else is going to carry the burden, when we have a chance to do something. It could be as small as having a conversation with a friend who keeps making sexist jokes and discriminatory comments, helping them to understand why that is hurtful and perpetuating oppression and stereotypes.
It could be going to a local school and mentoring young women who are looking for positive role models and mentors. It could also be starting a blog or a vlog series, talking about the issues you care about and fostering a dialog with your online community.
11. You mention in recent articles your passion for the work being done by Hillary Clinton, so the news of Trump’s presidency must be quite shocking for you. What can we all do to promote tolerance, love, and respect for all people in the United States during this time of radical shift in presidential beliefs?
One of the statements that Hillary Clinton would mention often at her rallies and in her speeches comes from John Wesley: “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, by all the ways you can, in all the places you can, and at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as you ever can.” She would often cite her Methodist faith as the reason for wanting to become a public servant and help people, which she has been doing for 30 years, as a lawyer and politician.
This is a difficult time for many people, who never thought such a hate-filled campaign run by a guy who seemed to thrive off the back of insulting many people, would get elected to become the leader of the free world. It is shocking and devastating, especially as we see the number of people he is now appointing to his cabinet who have backgrounds in discriminatory, racist, and oppressive actions.
But the thing that is giving me comfort, as well as many of my female entrepreneurs and creators, is that we do not have to be silent or stand by as these leaders make decisions which do not necessarily represent the people. We don’t necessarily have to agree with everyone, or even like them, but loving others is a conscious effort to sow seeds of tolerance and empathy in our society.
12. You seem to be quite the world traveler – growing up in Australia and moving to Los Angeles. What are your tips for working while on the road?
Yes I love travel and couldn’t live without it! I am lucky because most of my work is digital, and that means I can take my computer with me. My tips for others would be to be mindful of time management and organize your schedule accordingly if you have a trip coming up. I try to work enough so that I don’t have to travel and be stuck at my computer each day. Don’t be afraid to delegate and share some of your workload with others, if you are in a position to do that. Giving ourselves time off to refresh our mental, physical and emotional wellbeing is always a good thing.
13. You interview so many influential and confident females around the world. What are your most memorable interviews that our readers must view?
I recently spoke to the CEO of Planned Parenthood Ohio and the Managing Director of YWCA Ohio, two organizations that have joined forces in that state to provide some incredible services to especially lower-income and vulnerable communities. Both women also happen to be African-American, and have a history of being passionate about serving their communities in a number of different ways, so to hear their perspectives on reproductive rights, income equality, access to education and employment opportunities and family support was really informative. These women aren’t huge worldwide celebrities, nor do they have recognizable names, but the work they are doing, and the impact they are having on the people they serve is something worth far more than being famous.
14. Who are your all time favorite feminists, and what can we learn from them?
Author and activist Mona Eltahawy, an Egyptian woman who wrote a book called ‘Headscarves and Hymens’. She breaks down how the power structure of feminism is far more conducive to societies that the top-down patriarchal structure. She also talks about wanting to see a sexual revolution in the Middle East where women’s bodies are not shamed, oppressed and seen as instruments to enact violence upon because of spiritual beliefs.
Leymah Gbowee, a Nobel Peace Prize-winning activist who has done some incredible things in Liberia. She led a movement of Christian and Muslim women to come together and stage sit-ins and sex strikes to protest dictator Charles Taylor and the civil war. Their movement worked and eventually led to Liberia electing Ellen Johnson Sirlead, the first female president in Africa. Leymah’s efforts are shown in a documentary called ‘Pray the Devil Back To Hell’ on PBS.
Comedian and actress Mason Zayid, who is also an advocate for the visibility and rights of disabled people. She regularly talks about how the differently-abled community is heavily excluded from mainstream media representations, and why we need to change that. Her Ted Women talk from 2014 really opened my eyes to the statistics around this (People with disabilities are the largest minority in the world and they are the most under represented in entertainment) and how I can use my platform to include this community more.
These are just a few, and I could list so many more. But these three women give you an idea of how my perspectives on feminism are shaped.
15. Name three people you’d like to sit down to dinner with.
Melinda Gates, to talk about her philanthropic work advocating for maternal health and reproductive rights in the developing world.
Award-winning filmmaker Abigail Disney, to talk about the numerous documentaries she has worked on and her process of choosing her topics.
Former Texas state senator Wendy Davis who famously filibustered an omnibus anti-choice bill on the Senate floor for 11 hours straight. Her effort to sustain the passing of HB2 was initially successful, and made her a reproductive rights hero to women all over the country. Sadly, the bill ended up passing in a different legislative session, but with this year’s Whole Woman’s Health v Hellerstedt Supreme Court Case which challenged 2 major parts of the Texas law and struck it down, it exemplified just how important and needed pro-choice women in US legislatures are right now. I would love to ask her what her plans are next, and if they include eventually running for the presidency, I would want to immediately apply for a campaign position.