Female Trailblazers: IWD 2020

05 March 2020

Wishing a happy International Women's Day to all of Scope Global's employees, partners, friends and followers.

This year's UN Australia International Women’s Day theme is ‘Generational Equality’. This is certainly a thought-provoking theme and one that is particularly challenging to tackle when it comes to working toward equality. Breaking down the systemic barriers that generations of women have experienced throughout their lifetimes can be difficult. However, this is something we actively work towards from grassroots to government policy levels through our programs across the Asia-Pacific and at home in Australia.

We'll also be celebrating the International Women's Day event theme of Each For Equal which reinforces collective action and collaboration to ensure a gender equal and enabled world.

We hope you see reflections of these themes through our ‘Female Trailblazers’ series. Here we'll highlight role models who we have been lucky to work with at Scope Global; from an upskilled mechanic in Tonga, to leading a male-dominated infrastructure development in the Maldives; students supporting women in STEM, to disability advocacy in Australia. While some of our trailblazers have carved the way into new territories, others have built a broader inclusive space to create balance for self and with family and work.

These are just a small but fantastic snippet of the stories we’re proud to see arising from the areas we're pleased to work in. Please join us in acknowledging all the individuals, from all walks of life, who demonstrate a drive toward equality for all genders, races and abilities.

Shaana Farooq- Australia Awards

Image of Shaana Farooq

Shaana Farooq is a trailblazer by breaking down gender norms in the construction industry in the Maldives. As an Australia Awards alumna she has thrived and now leads in a traditionally male-dominated industry. Today, Shaana pioneers innovative projects, significantly contributing to the development of her nation.

She used her Australia Awards Scholarship to study a Master of Construction Law at Melbourne Law School. Shaana went on to apply her skills and knowledge and has progressed her position to be the Director General of the Infrastructure Department, at the Ministry of Housing and Infrastructure in the Maldives. Her day to day life currently involves managing the country’s most ambitious construction projects, whilst inspiring other women to succeed in the construction industry.

Shaana has also been elected to the Executive Committee of the Maldives Australia Awards Alumni Association. She uses her role to connect with Association members who are making positive and lasting impact as leaders, contributors and change-makers in the development of the Maldives.

We’re so proud to see how Shaana has progressed through the industry from a trainee to her current directors’ position and is able to utilise the skills she gained through her Australian studies in a local context.

Ruwanthika Jeewanthi Liyanage- Sri Lanka Skills

25 year old Ruwanthika Jeewanthi Liyanage hails from the city of Manampitya, from the District of Polonnaruwa in Sri Lanka. Though she has a disability which effects her vision, she overcame many personal and cultural obstacles to complete her standard level education.

Through the Skills for Inclusive Growth program Ruwanthika was able to undertake Professional Bakery Skills Training offered by VTA Polonnaruwa, through YMCA. The training brought about a huge change to her life, as she began both running her own home bakery business and subsequently working part time at local at Nilanka Bakery.

Her employer, E.G. Anusha Niroshi said

I only used to make breads and buns in my bakery prior to employing Ruwanthika. Neither myself or my workers are skilled enough to make anything else.  I am impressed with the skills set that Ruwanthika posses. When I see her I don’t see her disability, I see her as a multi skilled worker, who could potentially be my business partner. Her disability was not a barrier to me at all compared to her skills set. Because of her, we now produce items such as, pastries, pizzas, cakes and cupcakes adding value to what we offer at the bakery thus increasing our business income.

She is a trailblazer by breaking down barriers that can often limit the successes of women like her in the region; she had the drive to achieve and through her skills has shaped a local business into newfound success. By doing so, Ruwanthika has demonstrated to so many others what could be possible for their futures.

Alex Kay- Maven

Alex Kay at UN Bonn

Alex is an integral part of our Scope Global team. Beyond being a delight to work with she is an incredibly talented and passionate advocate for social inclusion. As such, Alex has pioneered our disability inclusion consultancy practice- Maven.

Maven is a professional service provider for corporates and communities seeking to improve their inclusion and diversity practices. It aims to break down barriers to inclusion in the workforce and cultural space, while also creating employment opportunities for people with disability.

She recently spoke at the CEDA 2020 Women in Leadership launch, alongside a panel of experts to share her insights on driving diverse and inclusive cultures within organisations and the benefit this delivers. Alex shared her experience of switching from the ‘medical model’ of disability to the ‘human rights/social model’ and the increased impact she feels she now has on creating positive social change for people with disability. All the panellists focused on the importance of hearing and utilising the voices of people with lived experience in disability and challenging the concept of ‘normal’.

Alex is certainly a trailblazer and a true advocate for equality; we’re proud to have her representing the Maven brand, and Scope Global as a whole, throughout her many successes.

Seini Moala- Tonga Skills

Tonga Skills is an initiative of the Australian Government to build the skills development sector, leading to inclusive economic growth for Tonga.

Seini Moala took part in a skills development program which enabled training in tractor repair and maintenance, as well as business coaching to help develop the knowledge and skills required to set up and operate a business.

Of the sixteen participants, Seini Moala was the only female but formed close and supportive bonds with her fellow students. So much so that she chose to join together with five of her other program participants to create their own mechanical workshop.

She is a trailblazer who is striving toward equality in a typically male dominated field, and by doing so aims to help others in Tonga achieve better outcomes for themselves and their businesses.

See the full video about her experience.

Isabelle Greco- Commonwealth Scholarships Program for SA

It’s rare to find a student as impassioned as Isabelle Greco. It’s even rarer to find a student so excited about maths, but this Commonwealth Scholarships Program for SA recipient is a trailblazer for young women looking to enter the field of STEM.

She recently completed her internship with Adelaide MRI, focussing on how machine learning could best interpret Xray images and turn them into valuable data reports. She describes this experience as placing her in a ‘stretch zone’, meaning she wasn’t comfortable but also didn’t feel she was struggling outside of her capacity. In this zone she used her quick learning skills to absorb copious papers and journals and apply her maths knowledge to the problems she faced. She also learned to emotionally detach from her work in a dynamic environment, as solutions that had been worked ardently toward could be deemed irrelevant or unnecessary in very quick succession. In just a short time with Adelaide MRI Isabelle was able to significantly contribute to a small part of a bigger picture- something she didn’t feel she had done with her studies so far.

Now she’s moving on to her next internship at Myriota, a ground-breaking data technology company. Isabelle will balance this with being the President and Communications Officer of the Adelaide University Mathematics Society, a member of the Women in Stem Society, tutoring three other students and maintaining her outstanding 7/7 GPA.

All these achievements make her our youngest trailblazer, but she is also probably the most passionate when it comes to gender equality. She takes her male friends along to diversity talks and workshops because, in her own words

We need more people to listen to those voices. You should always aim to listen louder than you speak… because the majority obviously doesn’t have the perspective of the minority and we can’t change it alone.

Nishtha Chadha- New Colombo Plan

Nishtha Chadha speaking

Nishtha Chadha is the 2019 New Colombo Plan (NCP) Fellow for Sri Lanka, actively making the 2020 International Women’s Day theme of ‘Generation Equality’ a reality throughout her NCP journey.

She began by interning as a Research and Communications Associate for The Advocata Institute; an independent policy think tank in Sri Lanka. One of their main objectives was around levelling the playing field for women to participate in the economy and removing the barriers to their empowerment. One of the key issues Nishtha worked on was lowering taxes on menstrual hygiene products in Sri Lanka to make them more accessible for women across the country.

The lack of access to these products has direct implications on women’s health, education and employment that we simply don’t consider in other parts of the world – leading to missed school days, poor hygiene management and lower levels of labour force participation.

Lack of inclusion from formal financial services is also an issue that women face across the region and is something Nishtha was able to work on with her second internship at United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) in Yangon, Myanmar.

Her role meant working with financial service providers and government institutions in Myanmar to implement gender sensitive policies and practices that enhance women’s access to agency across the country. UNCDF also works with Myanmar’s most rural, remote and vulnerable women to increase their awareness of financial services available to them and how best to leverage these in order to achieve economic security and access new opportunities.

She says of her experience

I am honoured to have had the opportunity to contribute to achievement of the Generation Equality goals through my NCP Scholarship. Discovering the systemic and structural barriers that women and girls across the world face in achieving their full potential has been an eye-opening experience that I will take far into my future.

Meere Maere- Kiribati Facility

Meere Maere is the Inclusion and Equity Officer at Kiribati Institute for Technology (KIT) and has a background in social work. Her role means working with vulnerable people, persons with disabilities and providing support in diverse work environments. Inclusion and gender equality initiatives at KIT are supported by the Australian Government’s Kiribati Facility, which encompasses the Skills for Employment Program delivered through KIT.

Since starting her role at KIT in September 2018, Meere has been involved in the opening of the Kiribati Family Health Association Clinic at KIT Betio campus. The clinic is an NGO service provider working to promote sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) for all people in Kiribati. She has also worked to improve the inclusion of students with disabilities in mainstream courses at KIT and has overseen an increased number of students seeking support from the Student Support Services office.

Meere sees her role as contributing to

the future generation of Kiribati and the major population here at KIT – our dear students especially those with disabilities and vulnerable young women.

As a woman in this role, I see how important it is to have female assistance. I think if I was one of these students, I would need a woman to talk to or for support.

Dr Sindhu Prasad Dhungana- Australia Awards

You may be asking why are we featuring a male participant in our Female Trailblazers series? It’s a good question. We believe equality should be driven from all directions, as does Australia Awards almunus Dr Sindhu Prasad Dhungana, our tenth trailblazer.

Dr Sindhu Prasad Dhungana is Joint Secretary at Nepal’s Ministry of Forests and Environment. He completed his PhD at Monash University and undertook a Master of Forests Science from The University of Melbourne through an Australia Awards Scholarship.

His key responsibilities include planning, budgeting and monitoring projects under the Ministry. He also drafts policies, coordinates foreign aid-supported projects and manages information systems for the forestry, environment and climate change sectors. But perhaps even more significantly, he is a trailblazer by being a male champion for gender equality.

Over Dr Dhungana’s time leading various organisations, he has ensured he appoints people as ‘Gender Focal Points’ with clear Terms of Reference. The Gender Focal Points are responsible for ensuring that their workplace is gender friendly, as well as for tracking gender-related issues which can be discussed at meetings and then addressed in practice.

The Gender Focal Points come together with representatives from the government, community, and private sector organisations in the forestry sector to form a regular Gender Working Group, to share experiences and insights.

He is the Gender Focal Point at the Ministry of Forests and Environment and as such has introduced a system to help ensure that women are included in Task Forces, Committees or overseas delegations formed by the Ministry. In addition, Dr Dhungana has organised a series of trainings and workshops, particularly for female staff on gender equity, sexual harassment in the workplace and gender roles.

He believes the role of men is very important for overcoming gender barriers in Nepal.

Firstly, men can show support by sharing in household chores, so women have time to perform their leadership responsibilities. Secondly, at an office – male colleagues have a role in making the workplace gender friendly. This includes… encouraging women to take part in decision making, listening to their issues, and addressing these issues.

As a male, you cannot exactly perceive the issues of women unless you are sensitive to them, you respect them, and you listen to them... When women are empowered, society is empowered.

Dr Dhungana still expresses his concerns that current power relations between men and women in Nepal aren’t as they should be, in that male supremacy attitudes and worldviews are common. He states that “Behaviours and attitudes that reinforce gender inequality in Nepal, across all levels of society, should not be tolerated” but is clearly active in his work to correct these imbalances.

Elizabeth Dale – New Colombo Plan

Elizabeth Dale is the 2019 New Colombo Plan Fellow for Myanmar, from The University of Notre Dame Australia. An excellent recipient of the scholarship, she was open and excited to experience the joys and challenges the opportunity would bring.

She began her journey in September 2019 with an internship with the Karen Anglican Mission to the Border (KAMB), teaching English at Noh Bo Academy. The Thai school provides education to high-school aged displaced persons fleeing the conflict in Myanmar.

What stood out to Elizabeth was the students’ excitement and eagerness to learn. This was particularly prevalent amongst the girls who were bright and optimistic about their futures, despite knowing the difficulties they will likely continue to face after school.

She had one particular discussion with a girl who lived in a nearby orphanage and had been sponsored by a Finnish family since she was young. Due to this support, to her ambition and her hard work, she had been accepted to study midwifery in a nearby Thai university. This conversation showed Elizabeth perfectly what opportunities these girls are capable of achieving for themselves and that they have immense potential, when provided with the right education and opportunities.

She then interned with VisionFund Myanmar, the microfinance arm of World Vision. She saw first-hand the impact the programs had on the lives of the most disadvantaged people, particularly the women of the region. The organisation at that time had as one of its main goals, to increase their number of female clients. Elizabeth was excited to see their success in this, as they had reached 86% female borrowers in August 2019.

Through VisionFund Myanmar, women were achieving an equal access to income which they would not have otherwise had. Most of those who through borrowed from VisionFund had gone from struggling to feed their families, to building and growing successful businesses. The stories told were a great example of women fulfilling their potential, even in difficult situations.

Reflecting on her NCP experiences with this year’s theme for International Women’s Day, Elizabeth said “I feel privileged to be able to participate in working to achieve this ‘call to action’. It has been exciting to see how women in this region of the world are so boldly and unashamedly working to achieve their goals and build a life for themselves and their families, despite all the forces working against them.”

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