“Change your decision; go for any other subject; or prepare for civil services examination,” one of my geology teachers told me when I was selected in Applied Geology for the master’s programme at Kashmir University. Was it my gender or the lack of jobs in Applied Geology in Kashmir which made him say so? The question is still moot. I didn’t change my decision because my love for geology was great. The first thing which I came to know in the university from a teacher was that Geology is the subject of poor students. Only students from poverty-stricken families opt for geology while students from well-off families study Computer Science or other technical courses. Maybe the attire of the students had made him conclude so.
Field work and outdoor activities are a requisite in geology. Data collection from the field is an important component of the subject. While on field work, geologists are exposed to the threat of wild animals and other dangers of remote locations. Despite challenges, geologists toil in the field until the job is done. In the strife-torn parts of the world, like Kashmir, data acquisition from the field is tough, especially for female geologists. In Kashmir, female geologists find it difficult to reach the field as anything can happen, from encounters to protests, at any time. Amid such dangers, reaching home late is another difficulty. Then there is the conservativeness of society to deal with. “Yh che kour, emis kya baalan khasun” (She is a girl, she should not climb up the mountains) is a remark I have heard from a group of women when I was doing field work. Such remarks are rife in Kashmir. If you are a female and you venture out to do something which usually girls do not do, lots of eyeballs stare at you and many disapproving comments are made.
Most people believe that geology is a subject of men. “I think you cannot climb up a glacier with males; work on something else,” said a teacher to me when I wished to study climate change vis-à-vis glaciers. The words whirled around in my head for a couple of days. Because of my gender I was barred from research on my favourite part of Earth Sciences. According to UNESCO data, 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.
In the beginning of the 19th century, women from the upper class were prevented by their families from studying Earth Science as it required outdoor activities. It was a woman from the lower class, Marry Anning from Lyme Regis, United Kingdom, who in that era discovered a number of fossils, but she was often not credited for her work. Because of her gender she was also barred from the Geological Society of London. Etheldred Benett, a spinster from England, was the first female geologist who 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 Geo Science research. Like many other women geologists, she also faced discrimination, both overt and covert.
Recently, two women scientists, Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jeniffer Doudna, were awarded the Nobel Prize 2020 in Chemistry for developing tools to edit DNA. This reflects that women are doing well in science research. Their research may inspire many young girls to follow the scientific path. The only female faculty member at the 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 of Earth Sciences.