VIEW: Gender empowerment needs to go beyond just the empowerment of women

The General Sir John Monash Foundation recently announced the recipients of its 2021 scholarships, Australia’s most prestigious postgraduate overseas study program. Among the recipients was emergency nurse of 15 years, Emily Ragus, who intends to complete a PhD in utilisation of gender empowerment theory within disasters promoting equality as a health diplomacy tool for Australia.

In this interview, Emily outlines why she is passionate about this field and why gender empowerment theory within disasters is an important issue for all Australians to reflect upon this year.

  • With the John Monash Scholarship, you’re planning to complete a PhD in gender empowerment theory within disasters. Why have you chosen this topic? 

Having worked in many male dominated areas of health, I have seen the subtle forms of discrimination that still occur. These subtle aspects tend to culminate to create a large societal problem that is often not recognized. I found that for myself, as a woman in leadership positions, I would still experience this, and I felt really disempowered. This disempowerment is a horrible feeling, and it is through self-reflection I decided systemic change needed to happen. This pushed me to focus my research into ways that this can be improved, particularly in relation to women in disasters.

Disaster management has progressed dramatically with gender equality, however we continue to fall short with regards to gender inclusion. What that means to both myself and the research that I am hoping to do, is to ensure that women continue to have a voice, but that voice is actively heard. As to mobilize the full breadth of the problem-solving capacity of a community, we need the whole community to be involved. By only listening to one side of a community during disasters, we are only understanding one side of the problem.

  • What have we learnt about gender empowerment or disempowerment from the coronavirus pandemic? 

What we have learnt is that gender empowerment needs to go beyond just the empowerment of women, it also needs to include how we can break down negative gender roles that put pressure on both men and women, to ensure we have healthier, happier communities.

Disasters indivertibly put emphasis on those groups within society that can experience vulnerabilities. COVID-19 as a public health disaster has done just that. It has been predicted that COVID-19 could globally reverse the limited progress that has been made on gender equality and women’s rights. Globally we need to implement programs and processes that work towards mitigating this gender equality decline. Because ultimately the equality that our Grandmothers fought for, needs to be extended to our children.

  • Why is equality a health diplomacy tool? What does this mean in tangible terms for everyday Australians? 

Australia plays a significant role within our geographical region. We are currently serving on the United Nations Human Rights Council, aiming to advance human rights internationally. However, there remains significant inequalities for women both domestically and within our region that we need to combat. A way to do that is through health education and empowerment through our humanitarian efforts in neighboring countries. This soft diplomatic maneuver can have a transformative change on people, but we need to use a framework to be as effective as possible in creating change around equality. My PhD will work towards establishing a workable and sustainable solution to a global problem.

  • What gives you hope that Australia is becoming more equitable? 

The #MeToo movement along with surging rates in domestic violence throughout this pandemic, have really highlighted the need within Australia to focus on the rights of women. I truly believe that as a country, we are pushing forward into a time of significant social change.

The next generation (both men and women) are not complacent to the inequalities that are still facing women in Australia, and they are also more educated as to what these inequalities are. I believe that collectively as a country we are passionate about changing the social landscape of Australia for a more equitable future.


About the expert

Emily Ragus is a 2021 John Monash Scholar who has dedicated her career to work towards a more equitable future. She has a Bachelor of Nursing from Queensland University of Technology, an International Diploma in Humanitarian Assistance from Fordham University in New York City and is currently completing a Masters of Global Development at Griffith University in Brisbane. Her professional background includes 15 years emergency nursing, as well as previously working as a remote area nurse, a helicopter trauma retrieval nurse and the coordinator for the Queensland Australian Medical Assistance Team (AUSMAT). Currently based in South East Asia with the International Committee of the Red Cross, Emily teaches first aid and pandemic control measures to vulnerable groups as a Pre-Hospital Health Delegate. With her John Monash Scholarship, Emily intends to complete a PhD in utilisation of gender empowerment theory within disasters promoting equality as a health diplomacy tool for Australia.


Image description: Emily has long, wavy brown hair, is smilling and wearing a white blouse under a beige jacket.