Being a Woman Geologist in Kashmir

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By Asyia Qadir

“CHANGE your decision of doing masters in geology, go for any other subject or prepare for civil service examination,” one of my geology teachers told me when I was selected in Applied Geology for the Masters programme at Kashmir University. Was it my gender or the increasing trend of Civil service exams or the lack of jobs in Applied Geology in Kashmir which made him say so? The question lingers.

I didn’t change my decision because my love for geology was unfathomable. The first thing which I came to know in the university from a teacher was that Geology is the subject of economically underprivileged students. Only the students from poverty stricken families opt for geology and the students from well off families engage in Computer Sciences or in other technical courses. May be the attire of the students had pushed him to conclude so.

Field work and outdoor activities are the requisite in geology. Data collection from the field is an important component of the geology. While on field work, geologists are exposed to a threat of wild animals and other dangers of remote locations. Despite setbacks the geologists toil in the field until the job is done.

In the strife torn parts of the world, the data acquisition from the field is tough row to hoe for female geologists. For instance, in Kashmir, female geologists with gung-ho attitude find it difficult to reach the field as anything can happen from encounters to protests at any time. In such volatile atmosphere, reaching home late is another difficulty which the female geologists face. They are also subject to conservative outlooks of the society. “Yh che kour, emis kya baalan khasun” (She is a girl, she should not climb up the mountains) is the remark which I heard from a group of women when I was doing field work. Such things are rife in Kashmir, if you are a female and you venture out to do something which usually girls do not do like the field work, lots of eyeballs stare at you and many casual remarks are made.

Most of the people believe that geology is the subject of men. “I think you cannot climb up a glacier with the men, work on something else,” said a teacher to me when I wished to study climate change vis a vis glaciers. The words whirled round and round my head for a couple of days. Because of my gender, I was barred to research on my favourite portion of Earth Sciences. According to UNESCO data, women represent less than 30% in research. Women in Science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) are published less, paid less for their research and do not advance as far as men in their careers.

Since time immemorial, women geologists have faced hardships travelling to their locations or working in the field. In the beginning of the 19th century, women from the upper class were prevented by their families to join the Earth Science field as it required outdoor activities. Women from lower classes used to engage in this field like, Marry Anning from Lyme Regis, United Kingdom. She discovered a number of fossils but was often not credited for her work. Because of her gender, she was barred from Geological Society of London. Etheldred Benett, a spinster from England was the first female geologist who has extensively worked on Paleontology. She was an avid fossil collector who devoted her life to Earth Sciences. Despite belonging to a wealthy family she engaged in the Geo Science research. Like many other women geologists she also faced discrimination both overt and covert.

Recently the two women scientists, Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jeniffer Doudna were awarded the Nobel Prize 2020 in Chemistry for developing the tools to edit DNA. This reflects that women are doing well in the research. Their research may inspire many young girls to follow the scientific path. The only female faculty member at Applied Geology department in Kashmir University, Dr. Sarah Qazi, has won the young scientist award in hydrogeology research in the year 2018. She has an experience of ten years in hydrogeology (sub surface water study) as a researcher and has authored a number of papers. She followed her dream of research, evened all the odds and stepped into the male dominated field, Earth Sciences.

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