International Women’s Day is an opportunity for communities to celebrate the incredible achievements of women around the world, and the efforts of many to close the gender equality gap.
It’s also an opportunity to reflect on what still needs to be done. According to the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Report, complete gender parity is still 217 years away.
We’re celebrating International Women’s Day by sharing the important work of Charles Sturt University student Arundhita Bhanjdeo, PhD Candidate at the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation and an incredible woman driving change and progress.
Through her PhD research, Arundhita has been collaborating with organisations that work tirelessly with rural women in India to find innovative ways to increase agricultural production, while also breaking down gender equality barriers in these regions.
Arundhita aims to map these transformations and learnings in the lives of women, and other project stakeholders, through her research (even though they are unquantifiable).
Working with women
Prior to beginning her PhD, Arundhita was involved in a research project in India focused on increasing agricultural productivity and improving the livelihood of female farmers. During the project, Arundhita found some unintended, secondary impacts of the study and decided to make these the focus of her PhD.
While working in India, Arundhita spoke to a rural woman who detailed some changes she had noticed in her life since the project began. Before the project, women were not allowed to attend village meetings, let alone have a voice and contribute to the decision-making process.
Since being actively involved in the project by working as researchers, contributing to fieldwork, bringing money home to the household and educating surrounding villages on best practice and skills, things have changed for these rural women.
They now have a voice. They’re invited to village meetings to share advice, skills and ideas with the men.
On top of the men’s perception changing, Arundhita believes the women developed a sense of purpose and agency, which allowed their confidence to grow.
“This is just one example of how agriculture research for development projects have helped rural women [in India] undergo profound changes in their lives.”
Tackling gender equality on a global scale
When asked about the steps needed to achieve gender equality globally, Arundhita thinks there are plenty of ways to move forward.
She believes that the unacceptable practices experienced by women all over the world must be stamped out. Things like domestic violence, limited access to education, child marriage, discriminatory divorce rights, restricted land ownership and unequal representation in professional and political spaces are examples of women’s rights issues that need to be addressed before true gender equality is achieved.
Arundhita also believes the education of young women and girls must be paramount, especially in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM) disciplines, where females are underrepresented.
“Education is the most important tool to give girls and women a voice – and the chance to make informed decisions with respect to marriage, reproduction and children – to build her future.”
Finally, Arundhita is adamant that women must be increasingly encouraged to actively participate and claim space in areas that impact their lives. Whether they work in business, on a farm, in research or politics, women need to be encouraged to take a ‘seat at the table’ and be included in the decision-making process.
Arundhita’s take on International Women’s Day
Arundhita took a moment to reflect on what International Women’s Day means to her.
“For me, it means taking some time to acknowledge and celebrate the struggles of many women, as well as men, across the world who have made it possible for women to have a voice today.
“In addition, it is also about working hard to support the ongoing and future struggle for an equal and respectable space for women, to build the capacity in them to make emancipated and aware choices, in any possible way.”
Speaking about the advice she would give young women and girls interested in a STEMM-related career path, Arundhita noted that confidence is key.
“It’s important for them be confident and have absolute conviction in their ability, and not be put down due to any kind of personal and professional uncertainty or sexism. Faith in oneself, and to be constantly ready to learn and collaborate with other researchers, is what speeds the journey to success.”