In the first in a series of Q&A’s we talk to Soroptimist Amrita Gautam
‘Soroptimism’ in the eyes of a ‘Soroptimist’?
‘’Optimism in everything we do, leads us to the World we want to live in’’.
That is why we are Soroptimists!
Please tell us a little about your background and how you became a Soroptimist?
“I am a Ph.D. research scholar in ‘Water Supply Engineering and Management’ at the Technical University of Cologne. Germany. I was born and raised in Nepal, where I completed my graduation in ‘Civil Engineering’ with a dream to be a ‘person’ who can make her family happier and can also support an impactful change to the society, nation and the world for making it a little bit better to live in.
Since my early childhood, I was intolerant of the things I could see in society in regards to gender discrimination. I spoke and raised my questions wherever it was possible whether it was inside an extended family, or in school/universities or any other public places. My parents always gave me enough space and platforms to learn my rights and to crave for my dreams. I always believe ‘Our first school is our home’, where I learned the fact ‘I can achieve anything in life if I wish, plan for it and work on it with all my honesty and dedication’.
My journey towards Soroptimism started with a small story:
‘ During fieldwork for a project (in the same year of my graduation as a Civil Engineer from ‘Institute of Engineering’, Pulchowk, Tribhuvan University) about ‘Arsenic Aquifer Sealing in Wells’ in Nawalparasi district, Nepal, a girl aged about ‘14’ visited our drilling site, nearby her home location. I could hear a conversation between that little girl and a male team member of our project where she was curious about my involvement in that project. My colleague replied with a positive gesture, ‘She is the same as us – ‘an Engineer’, who is working within the team on this ‘Arsenic Aquifer Sealing Research Project’. Then, I was surprised to hear her reaction. She replied, ‘Can a girl be an engineer too?’. I never knew that a girl living in a remote village in my country would feel this way about the opportunities or possibilities for her own career and future.
A question came to me at that moment. ‘How can a girl dream for her future if she doesn’t know what her options might be? That she is able to choose to build a career, doesn’t matter if it is engineering, medicine, law, management or politics or any sector? ‘’A Dream of a Girl cannot be limited’’.
This ignited a spark within me to be a voice for those unheard, and to reach those at the back with information, resources, and possibilities to help excel them in their careers.
The same year I came to know of the existence of Soroptimist International (SI) and a proposal to be a founding member of SI Kathmandu, Nepal. I did not have a second thought as I felt that this was the place, I wanted to invest in. It lit a fire within me and fueled my energy to work as a team to improve the lives of girls and women as much as we could!
The preparations for the Chapter ‘SI Kathmandu, Nepal’ began in 2010 and was officially chartered by the SIGBI Federation in July 2012. This was the beginning of my SI Journey! In addition, I received another great opportunity to be a founding member of SI Köln Kolumba, Germany, officially chartered by the SIE Federation in September 2015 – Another milestone of self-empowerment on my SI Journey! ‘
Is there one key issue that drives you – something you feel truly passionate about and why?
Yes, the key issue is ‘The poor and unmanaged situation of the Water and Sanitation sector’, especially in the developing countries where ‘women and children’ are suffering the most. The unavoidable consequences of ‘Climate Change’ have questioned our existence and we cannot deny the truth. ‘There is an urgent need for action to save the mother earth so that we all can survive and thrive. And, ‘Water’ is the key medium of many ‘sufferings and solutions’ to deal with the real meaning of ‘Climate Action’.
How important is Youth Activism –youth-led movements and organisations in transforming norms and creating a more sustainable and equal world?
No doubt ‘Youth are at the heart of development and their full potential can be best utilised for resources management and conflict resolution. There can be a WIN-WIN situation if their involvement is considered seeing ‘Youth as the best learners and future contributors’.
There are great examples in today’s world where youth-led organizations are taking up space in meaningful discussions and contributing to transforming policies and norms. But there are rare cases they are brought to decision-making levels. This situation should be opened up, and the world can rejoice the transformations we need to achieve sustainable development goals and a balanced future.
Youth are considered future leaders. But the world knows it well; youth are not just the leaders for the FUTURE, but are also the leaders of TODAY!
Who do you most admire and why?
I admire my MOTHER the most, not just because she has given birth to me to see this world, but also for all the values I have acquired to survive and to enjoy this world. She did not receive all the opportunities to complete her education and build her own career, but the strength she has given to her children to grow in their lives and careers is something very appealing. The very important lesson she has taught me is to be independent in my life and to share my happiness with family and others, without compromising my vision for welfare works and the commitment I feel for my professional sector.
My father is the first ‘He4She’ character I got inspired by. That is why I am focused and committed to my vision and the mission to be ‘a human’ in real sense.
How important is an education to changing behaviour and achieving human rights goals?
As Nelson Mandela said – “Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world”, education has a vital role to play in transforming any society. Behaviour is something you tend to do with your normal understanding and ‘Right Education’ helps you to identify where you need to work to support a more sustainable behavioural change for yourself and for the community around you. ‘Knowing your rights’ opens your eyes and it enables you to achieve your goals and everything you deserve as a human. Thus, access to education for any person or society is key to making them a better version of themselves and to ensure their basic human needs.
We want a world ’50-50’ no less and no more!
#NeverAgain, #Metoo, #ENDFGM #ClimateAction – online action and presence is a huge part of youth activism – what advice can you give people taking their first steps online?
Indeed! Online platforms in this modern era have become a very powerful tool for youth activism. Hashtags like #NeverAgain #MeToo #ENDFGM #ClimateAction have been a digital sensation to shake the global public in getting attention to the issues and actions needed. In my perception, the important thing for online activism is to share your motive clearly, to engage actively and to update regularly.
How important are intergenerational relationships? How can we learn and support one another?
It is vital to combine the synergies between all women activists of all ages, in the fight against gender discrimination and to work for generation equality. The experiences of the older generation and the excitement of the younger generation are equally important in advocacy and awareness campaigns. Effective intergenerational relationships can only lead us towards ‘The Road to Equality’.
In my personal opinion, SI is one of the great networks one can exercise efficient intergenerational relationships, where young Soroptimists can learn different life-skills for personal and professional growth from more experienced Soroptimists and at the same time, the younger or more recently joined Soroptimists can combine and share their energy for this modern era and digital world!
There is nothing to lose but to gain on both sides.
What platforms do you use to share your messages and on and offline?
As a young water professional and a Soroptimist, I enjoy sharing my messages via various platforms like email, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, several national/regional/international conferences and scientific journals.
How vital is work at the grassroots level to transform communities – particularly in relation to the key issues you advocate for?
If we want to bring any real change, there are no shortcuts. We need to work at the grassroots level and need to have enough patience in transforming communities in the context of generation equality and resource development, for which I advocate the most!
Being a Water Professional, I love to work in different communities to understand their ground issues to be able to provide adequate solutions and recommendations. That’s why I believe and advocate for the ‘Techno-Socio-Institutional Framework’ as a methodological approach. It applies also to my responsibility as a Soroptimist. To support effective change and to advocate for girls and women, we need to first understand their issues in-depth, not only on the surface. Then, we can help girls and women in improving their lives in a sustainable way.
Any other words or thoughts?
“Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.”
– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
I truly believe in this quotation and always try to keep in my mind to energize myself for the things I am passionate about and advocate for!”