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July 12, 2015 | by  | in The Week In Feminism |
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Distractingly sexy and guardians of the forest

Sexism in academic fields such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) is no new thing, but rarely has it been so obvious than when Nobel prize-winning scientist Tim Hunt remarked that women are a distraction in these fields. This comment resulted in a huge media storm charged by the outrage of women working in scientific fields and resulted in Hunt’s resignation from a number of academic posts. However, it also turned a much needed spotlight on gender discrimination in STEM fields. This is an issue that has existed since women began participating in STEM fields and takes shape in many different ways including wage gaps, a lack of promotion for women in STEM careers, and workplace discrimination from peers.

This discrimination is perhaps most prominent among Indian women scientists, as a recent article published in India Today indicated. It described the many obstacles that these scientists faced in their fields—from their being asked to do menial and unrelated tasks by their male colleagues to the lack of women in research agencies. There was a hopeful spike in Indian women studying STEM fields around 2009 but, as this article shows, this didn’t translate to them getting jobs or careers in their fields of study. Indian women scientists are simply not getting the same encouragement and support that their male counterparts are. This begins at times of study and early schooling and has a ripple effect that changes the outcome of their careers in STEM fields.

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Women in Nepal are spearheading the preservation of the Terai forest as it comes under continuous threat of pollution and deforestation. The Terai Arc is a stretch of lowlands in southern Nepal that is home to some of the world’s most fragile and secret ecosystems. Women in the surrounding villages have taken to protecting these lands. Dubbed the “guardians” of the Terai Arc, they spend time maintaining the Mahila Jagaran community forest which borders Nepal and India. The women work in community groups where they learn how to restore overused or otherwise threatened forests, and also how to sustainably harvest the wood which they can then sell or use. A lot of rural Nepal is dominated by women as the men travel abroad to earn more money. The Terai Arc community group not only ensures the protection of the forest itself, but also teaches the women how to live symbiotically with their surrounding environments.

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