Collage of women

International Women’s Day 2019

As part of this year’s international Women’s Day, a global celebration of the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, we are once again pleased to celebrate the women in the regional studies and regional science community. The Campaign for International Women’s Day encourages everyone, not only women, to play their part, all of the time, everywhere, to build a gender-balanced world.

In regional studies, many people are working to ensure that not only is the world more balanced for gender, but also a balancing of inequality, climate and environmental sustainability.  Today, we are raising awareness of some of the inspirational women who currently work in the diverse fields of regional studies and regional science, recognising that their work today has special significance for the world tomorrow.

Melissa Nursey-Bray observes that “Our cities are experiencing extreme temperatures, are swelling with people and becoming clogged as transport systems and buildings become stressed under pressure. Regional studies provides a crucial starting point that will help us understand how to build urban and regional resilience and investigate socially just and diverse ways to respond to these challenges”.   Trina Hamilton is also working on the balancing act in cities: “For cities to be truly sustainable, all residents should have access to affordable housing, living-wage jobs, clean air and water, and green space. Urban residents should not have to accept a false choice between contamination and environmental gentrification.”

But Abeer Elshater wondersCan we build a better balance in the cities of today? Before answering, we need to think first about ‘when’ and ‘how’ we should have gender equity in urban areas of Global South. Today, in the Middle East and particularly in Egypt,… women are able to have an active, even-handed, and driving role in their society.”  Ina Horlings explains thatOur society faces a number of crucial sustainability challenges now and in the future…A deep adaptation is needed, not only in behavior but also in values, attitude and participation.”

So, these are some of the issues confronting the community of regional researchers. And as they work to even out the imbalances of society, environment, climate, they themselves face their own challenges to position themselves on the playing field.  Elisa Giuliani observes how “We still have a long way to go to ensure the enjoyment of many fundamental human rights, including women’s rights. Surprisingly, despite feminist movements and economic progress, we still need to be active day by day to avoid gender discrimination.”  Simona Iammarino agrees “The updated statistics on women in regional science and especially in prominent positions yield mixed results. On the one hand, there is an increasing number of women in the field. On the other hand, women are still not frequently featured in positions of academic prominence.”

Wenying Fu observes “In my research career, I engaged with research communities of regional studies with a non-feminist approach, and I believe that the desire to find out truths and develop insights is not defined by gender, race or nationality. But we do need feminist approach in disciplinary practices, trying to be more considerate about our career development needs and struggle between work and family.”

Everyone, of all ages, nationalities and gender, encounters challenges when balancing career and personal lives. We recognise that that for many women, juggling family and work can sometimes include extra obstacles and would like to take this opportunity to celebrate some of our female members who have successfully balanced their swaying tightropes.  Paula Bastos, working in Brazil, exemplifies the art of balancing career and family.  She describes her contribution to regional studies as “spread across Amazonian fieldwork, governments and policy, and a role as a university professor.” She is also “a single mother of twins, one disabled with no autonomy” and is sensitive to the fact that her “academic contributions are far behind of what I could perform,” although we would suggest that she has accomplished a great deal indeed.  Nina Brankovic, one of the RSA’s ambassadors, also describes the challenges she overcameI survived war, lost both of my parents when I was a teenager, lived on 30 EUR a month. Today, I work for most of EU countries, speak four languages and am finalizing my PhD. Who said that women can’t accomplish whatever they want?”

Mafini Dosso is optimistic and hopes for positive outcomes from her successes “I think we can give hope to the next generation, to help turn their ideas into concrete actions. The Diaspora look at me, an Ivorian working at the European Commission – I have a PhD but did my schooling in Côte d’Ivoire… so when I tell them that something is possible – they can believe it because I’m literally one of them!”  We believe that there is cause for optimism in gender parity.  Changes do not happen overnight, but gradually the field is evolving.  Mia Bennett observes “Since polar research and exploration has a history of being male-dominated, I think it’s particularly important for women to demonstrate that they are equally capable of leading expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic and pursuing cutting-edge research. More and more women are doing exactly this, which has inspired me in my own work to try to break through what might be called the ice ceiling.”  Rhiannon Pugh also recognises that work is being done to redress the gender balance “Whilst the regional studies field still feels quite male-dominated, there are positive steps being taken, and the landscape is changing.”

Mia Gray is supportive of the work that we at the RSA are trying to achieve “The RSA has been a leader in promoting the everyday nature of gender equality in academia — on Boards, in publishing, on panels, on keynote speakers – helping to ensure that female academic and policy voices are heard.”  Olga Mrinska agrees “The RSA offers many great opportunities for horizontal networking, where hierarchy, geography and gender are secondary to your research interests and the desire to collaborate and innovate. Don’t waste them!”  Franziska Sielker also supports this “As a woman in regional studies, I have always been profoundly grateful for the strong mentorship that I have received in the field. I am committed to promoting intergenerational support networks amongst regional scholars.”

Jessie Poon observes “When I began working on regional development in the 1990s, it was an interesting time for the small group of female quantitative geographers.  The discipline was engaged in conversations of epistemological limits and opportunities. Female geographers were important participants of that conversation. Let’s continue to expand the opportunities.”  Ultimately summed up beautifully by Irina Turgel “Empowering women equals empowerment of humanity.”

We would like to thank all our contributors to this celebration of women in regional studies and regional science.

  • Abeer Elshater                                         
  • Danica Šantić                                            
  • Elisa Giuliani 
  • Franziska Sielker                                     
  • Hilal Erkus                                                  
  • Ida Musiałkowska                                  
  • Ina Horlings
  • Irina Turgel
  • Jessie Poon
  • Mafini Dosso                                            
  • Mariachiara Barzotto                            
  • Melissa Nursey-Bray                             
  • Mia Bennett                                             
  • Mia Gray                                                    
  • Nina Brankovic
  • Olga Mrinska                                            
  • Paula Bastos
  • Raquel Ortega-Argilés                          
  • Rhiannon Pugh                                        
  • Sabine Dörry
  • Simona Iammarino                                
  • Trina Hamilton                                        
  • Wenying Fu