International Women's Day: Rida Shafqat Q&A
What do you study at the University and what made you study here?
I am a final year biomedical engineering student. I came to Herts, as it was one of the few universities that offered biomedical engineering and had a diverse student body. One of the main reasons I chose Herts was the scholarship I was offered based on my academic achievements. Moreover, as an international student, I wanted to meet people from various cultures and backgrounds, and having Herts, I was impressed by the global community here. The facilities such as library, sports village and the opportunity to join societies, clubs and volunteering opportunities was quite appealing to me.
What is your greatest achievement? This can be personal or related to your professional career
My greatest achievement was being elected as the first Muslim international female Students' Union President and representing all the students at Herts at a high level. Having moved to a completely new country, with a new environment, no friends, and having gone through a cultural shock, I was able to adapt quickly and learn enough to put myself forward for a high position. Despite strong opposition, and the challenges faced, I came into the position after my second year, which seemed impossible. I overcame my fears, got out of my comfort zone, and in the process, I learned that anything is possible if you stay motivated and don't give up.
Are there any women in your life who have been a role model?
Yes. My mum has always been a source of inspiration and a role model for me. She has proven herself best in all dimensions of life. She has always balanced and exceled in all her personal, professional, and social life well which a lot of people struggle with. With her positive attitude, she always took on heavy responsibilities, without complaining ever. I have always admired her confidence in her abilities, her can-do attitude, her ability to take on challenges with a smile on her face, and her strong will in life. She's been the drive for me to be confident and ready to accept challenges in life.
Have you ever experienced a barrier or a struggle due to your gender? If you overcame this, how did you do it?
For the first two years of University, I ran a cultural society which was predominately male dominant. As a stereotype, it was thought that cultural societies are normally led by male leaders, and I struggled initially to fight this stereotype. It was particularly challenging to fight the belief that a young girl would struggle to cater for everyone's needs and deal with serious issues.
Despite that, I was able to organise successful events, increase student engagement with the society, and challenge the status quo. I tried to have representation from all the different types of students in the committee (males, females, home, international students, UG and PG), and involved them in the decision making.
This led to them taking ownership of the decisions and once we started to organise successful events as a team, the idea of a young girl not being able to handle leadership was finally challenged. I also planned female only events, to increase the female membership of the society and to create a sense belonging for them. This eventually encouraged other females to actively participate and nominate themselves for President and other positions within the committee during elections.
What do you think society can do to advance gender equality?
I think it's important for everyone to embrace that success, leadership and status has nothing to do with gender. To advance gender equality, there needs to be a cultural change/reform in mindset first, only then gender equality can advance fully. Women should be aware of their rights first, and should refuse and fight against things such as pay gap etc.
For more information and resources, visit https://www.internationalwomensday.com