The event at the Bangalore International Centre was on the occasion of the book “Women in Wild” by Anita Mani, and it was a panel discussion with seven prominent female Wildlife Biologists and Researchers.
I did go into the session blind, but glad I went. I am sure that I would not have come across the fascinating lives of icons like Jamal Ara or J Vijaya (India’s first herpetologist who died at the young age of 28 under tragic circumstances — and on the book cover). Or heard the passion and challenges of the women on the stage.
With many in the audience students in the area, aspirants, or even enthusiasts who want to know more, these are the points I felt are good takeaways for all who want to know the space.
1. Decades before, wildlife research was a bastion of the male. Not anymore, now many are there, and doing substantive work. In fact, in many undergraduate and postgraduate schools, the girls significantly outnumber the boys in the class. However, women’s representation in the decision-making positions is still low.
2. The career is still relatively uncertain, especially in monetary terms. So passion is very important for deciding to enter, as a long arduous, and often lonely journey awaits one. But it is extremely enriching at the same time.
3. Many people come to the space after being in other areas, and hence so-called “later in life”. Does not matter, so long one is clear about the space, and the methods can be found out.
4. Given the nature of the profession, a mentor who will back up through thick and thin is a great advantage. Does not matter who that mentor is, and many areas are so nascent that there are only a handful are available in that field. But empathy is a key criterion to look for.
5. Most people are supportive, and specifically for women — most men are. Some shared that in their experience members of the forest department are more enabling than fellow wildlife community. Possibly because they are universally more invested.
6. There are constraints in terms of women-specific challenges, specifically health. The best way to handle this is to call out, seek help, and take rest/ care if necessary. At not point goal should be to prove a point as a woman.
7. Safety was not called out as a big issue, but the lack of environment to call out cases of harassment and the institutional apathy to deal with them were discussed. It was stressed that all discomfort has to be called out early, as in many cases it helps to build security.
8. Media engagement is a key lacuna, but critical as it builds public awareness and advocacy. A lot of scope exists for the community to work with media, and media to also have reporters who have both the knowledge and sensitivity for the subject.
9. All the panelists expressed their willingness to engage with anyone who wants to reach them for suggestions/ guidance or any other support. Email is the best form as shared.