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Opinion

Are We Equipping Women or Merely Filling the Gender Gap?

Alina Kadhila, a hydrogeologist at Namibia Water Corporation, operating a mud rotary drilling rig. Credit: Alina Kadhila

Alina Kadhila, a hydrogeologist at Namibia Water Corporation, operating a mud rotary drilling rig. Credit: Alina Kadhila

PRETORIA, South Africa, Jun 7 2024 (IPS) - In the expansive field of groundwater resource management, a pressing question often emerges: are we truly equipping women with the necessary tools and opportunities to thrive, or are we simply attempting to fill in the gender gap without tackling the root causes?

Despite significant progress in gender equality across various sectors, including science and technology, the underrepresentation of women in groundwater-related fields remains alarmingly high.

Recent statistics reveal that women make up only 22% of the global groundwater workforce, a stark indication of a persistent gender gap that demands immediate attention. This gap suggests that while there may be efforts to increase women’s representation, there may still be systemic challenges and barriers that hinder true equity and inclusion in the field.

While progress has been made in bridging the gender gap in recent years, the statistics present a stark reality of the hurdles that women still encounter in entering and thriving in groundwater-related professions.

Despite significant progress in gender equality across various sectors, including science and technology, the underrepresentation of women in groundwater-related fields remains alarmingly high. Recent statistics reveal that women make up only 22% of the global groundwater workforce, a stark indication of a persistent gender gap that demands immediate attention

Despite their equal capabilities and potential to contribute to the field, systemic barriers such as limited opportunities for career growth, and pervasive gender biases persist, impeding their full participation. In addition to these structural hurdles, women in groundwater often face cultural norms and stereotypes that reinforce the idea of male dominance in scientific and technical fields.

For instance, women have been believed to be suited for lighter duties, while more physically demanding duties, such as drilling or engineering work, are often associated with men.

Even when women are hired in these fields, they encounter resistance in being acknowledged and respected for their authority and expertise. In some cases, individuals may refuse to follow directives issued by women, viewing them as less authoritative solely because of their gender. This resistance not only undermines women’s contributions but also perpetuates the belief that women have no place in positions of leadership or decision-making.

Reflecting on her experiences, Alina Kadhila, a hydrogeologist at Namibia Water Corporation, notes, “While progress has been made in recognizing the importance of gender diversity, there’s still a long way to go.” Societal norms and cultural beliefs greatly shadow efforts to promote gender equality.

Entrenched stereotypes perpetuate the notion that certain professions are inherently male domains, “To address these challenges truly,” she asserts, “we need to challenge stereotypes, dismantle systemic biases, and create pathways for women to thrive. Alina emphasizes.”

Phera Ramoeli, Executive Secretary at the Permanent Okavango River Basin Water Commission (OKACOM), echoes Kadhila’s sentiments, emphasizing the need for an integrated approach to gender equality and equity.

“Gender equality is not just about promoting the interests of one gender over another,” he emphasizes. “It’s about creating a level playing field where everyone has equal opportunities to succeed.” Ramoeli advocates for empowering both a girl and boy child, nurturing a culture of inclusivity that transcends traditional gender norms.

Furthermore, Ramoeli highlights the importance of recognizing diversity’s inherent value to the groundwater sector. “Diverse perspectives foster innovation and drive progress,” he asserts.

By embracing gender diversity, organizations can tap into a broader talent pool, resulting in more creative problem-solving and sustainable solutions to complex challenges. Encouragingly, as awareness grows regarding the benefits of diversity, there is a growing momentum towards fostering inclusive environments where all individuals, regardless of gender, can thrive.

Addressing the challenge of societal norms and cultural beliefs that perpetuate gender disparities requires a paradigm shift and multifaceted strategies. In the groundwater field, tackling the challenges rooted in societal norms and cultural beliefs demands a targeted approach.

It begins with reshaping perceptions from the ground up. Implementing gender-sensitive educational programs within hydrogeology and related disciplines can debunk stereotypes and instil values of inclusivity early on. Integrating these programs into academic curricula will pave the way for a future generation of hydrogeologists who understand and champion gender equality.

Within the professional sphere, initiatives aimed at creating inclusive environments are paramount. Groundwater organizations must adopt policies that accommodate the diverse needs of their workforce, particularly women.

Flexible work arrangements tailored to the demands of fieldwork and family responsibilities can remove barriers to entry and retention. Mentorship programs that pair women with experienced professionals offer guidance and support, nurturing talent and fostering career advancement.

Equally essential is ensuring equitable opportunities for pay and progression, underlining the value of every individual’s contribution irrespective of gender. By cultivating a culture of inclusivity and support, groundwater institutions can heighten the collective expertise of all professionals, driving innovation and progress in the field.

The journey toward true equity involves more than just providing access; it requires dismantling systemic barriers and fostering an environment where every individual, regardless of gender, can thrive. It demands efforts to challenge ingrained biases, reshape societal norms, and advocate for inclusive policies and practices.

As we navigate this path, it becomes clear that actual progress lies not in isolated initiatives but in a holistic, systemic change. It entails equipping women with the tools, resources, and opportunities they need to excel while simultaneously addressing the underlying structures perpetuating gender disparities. It requires a commitment to fostering an inclusive culture that values diversity and empowers individuals to reach their full potential.

Ultimately, the goal of gender inclusivity is not simply to bridge the gender gap but to create a professional ecosystem where gender is no longer a factor that impedes anyone’s ability to succeed.

It is crucial to proactively address gender biases, promote mentorship and networking opportunities, and ensure that contributions from women are recognized and valued equally. Only then we can honestly say that we are not just filling the gender gap but actively equipping women, forging a future where equality and equity is not just a goal but a lived reality.

 

Ashley Malepe is Communication Intern at the SADC-Groundwater Management Institute

 

 
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