Mumbai city's women heros to rule the internet on Women's Day

Mar 07, 2018, 08:45 IST | Gaurav Sarkar

On the eve of Women's Day, two city scientists offer inspiration to girls as part of a global movement

Shubha Tole
Shubha Tole

If you thought Wonder Woman was cool, these real-life heroes have even cooler superpowers — beating patriarchy and achieving the impossible. This Woman's Day, two of Mumbai's very own wonder women are set to capture hearts and minds on the Internet as part of Google India's #HerStoryOurStory campaign. These two women, Vidita Vaidya and Shubha Tole, both scientists at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), know a thing or two about hearts and minds.

Vidita, principal investigator at TIFR's neurobiology lab, is an expert in the study of regulation of emotions and how these mechanisms are influenced by human experiences. Shubha, professor and principal investigator, is credited with the discovery of a gene important for the formation of the hippocampus and cortex of the brain.

Vidita Vaidya
Vidita Vaidya

Both are recipients of the prestigious Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Award for making outstanding contributions in the field of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) — a primarily male-dominated field.

Ahead of International Women's Day, Google has put the spotlight on their success stories, in an effort to help women across the country find relatable role models. The story of their journey will be shared through videos, to highlight the societal, cultural and economic barriers they had to fight to achieve their dreams and redefine women's role in our society.

(left) Shubha Tole (third from left) teaches her students about the brain
(left) Shubha Tole (third from left) teaches her students about the brain

Equal access? Not yet
As a child, Vidita, 47, had dreamed of becoming an archaeologist like Indiana Jones. "But at some point in my early teens, I became interested in studying human behaviour. That's when my journey as a scientist began," she recalled.

But it wasn't easy making a mark in the male-dominated sphere, said Vidita, a St Xavier's alumnus who went on to complete a PhD in the US. "Access to opportunities is still lopsided in most places globally, especially in India. The more you see women growing in various fields, you will have conversations around that, and I hope this changes centuries of patriarchy. But access to equal opportunities for men and women requires loud and strong movements," she said. While she agreed that the conversation around gender equality and women empowerment definitely has gained momentum recently, she pointed out that equal access was still a long way from being a reality for women.

"I think this [recent feminist campaigns] is the beginning... but we have such a long way to go that we shouldn't view this as anything other than a part of the journey that we have to take. It just happens to be amplified at this moment in time because of media-related campaigns and social media giving it a platform. Frankly, though, this is just a walking step in a long direction — we are far from equal access," she added.

Vidita Vaidya (left) at work in the neurobiology lab
Vidita Vaidya (left) at work in the neurobiology lab

Never give up
Perhaps the superpower that women need the most is determination. Shubha, 50, a fellow St Xavier's alumnus, emphasised on the importance of believing in your dreams. "I would like to tell all young girls that the aspirations and ambitions that arise within you when you're young are often curtailed and squelched by well-meaning advisors. Nobody gives that type of discouraging advice to boys. This idea of compromise for girls clamps down their desire to do something unique. I think that connectivity and globalisation have led to people hearing each other's voices more, so we now hear more about women empowerment and protests."

Google speaks
Sapna Chadha, director of marketing (SEA and India), Google, said, "Many studies show that one of the major barriers preventing women in India from growing is the lack of relatable and realistic role models from a similar background. On International Women's Day, we want to bring forward stories of women who have not just transformed their lives, but also their communities. We are celebrating the success of women from all walks of life, who can inspire many more to follow their dreams."

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