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Scholar aims to improve gender equality and social inclusion in Nepal

Posted: 3 April 2024

Nepal, Experience, Gender, Scholar,

Rakshya Risal from Nepal began studying a Master of Arts (Women’s and Gender Studies) at Flinders University in 2023, with the support of an Australia Awards Scholarship.

Rakshya was featured as ‘the face’ of the Australia Awards promotions in Nepal for study commencing in 2025. We recently caught up with her to ask about her Scholarship journey, how it has affected her professional and personal growth, and what advice she has for prospective applicants. Her responses below highlight her passion for gender equality and dedication to helping prevent domestic and family violence.

Why did you apply for an Australia Awards Scholarship?

I applied for the Australia Awards Scholarship with the aim of advancing my understanding and capabilities within the global context of gender equality and social inclusion. The Scholarship is a prestigious opportunity that seeks to invest in individuals like me, fostering the development of skills that can contribute positively to their respective communities. By pursuing studies in Australia focused on women, gender and development, I am provided with the opportunity to enhance my interdisciplinary knowledge critically, particularly in analysing gender and related categories from a feminist perspective.

This academic pursuit is instrumental in shaping my role as a change agent, as it equips me with the skills necessary to address emerging issues related to women, vulnerable groups and human rights. Through this Scholarship, I am empowered to identify and challenge injustices while also addressing social and cultural norms that perpetuate exploitative power relations based on gender and other disparities. In essence, my application for the Australia Awards Scholarship aligned with my commitment to making a meaningful impact in my career by contributing to the advancement of gender equality and social inclusion.

My objective is to learn from international perspectives and apply that knowledge to address gender dynamics in families, workplaces and communities within my home country. The Australia Awards Scholarship offers an excellent opportunity for both personal and professional growth. I am excited about contributing to my home country’s development with the insights gained from this experience.

Rakshya participating as a panelist at the 2023 Scholars Forum.

How has your Australia Awards Scholarship contributed to your personal and professional growth?

The Australia Awards Scholarship has provided invaluable experiences that cover academic, personal and professional dimensions. Throughout this period, I have been fortunate to engage in diverse activities that have broadened my horizons and lifted me to new heights.

On a personal level, the Scholarship has honed my analytical skills and conflict-resolution abilities. It has fostered my understanding of cultural diversity and environmental nuances, leading to personal growth in effective time management and decision-making, enhanced confidence, mindset development, and improved physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. This experience has also instilled resilience, enabling me to tackle problems with ease.

Professionally, the Scholarship has provided a platform for building and expanding my networking skills. Connecting with individuals from academia to civil society organisations to government bodies has widened my professional circles, allowing me to contribute to a broader impact. This networking has not only facilitated the development of my communication skills but also opened doors to various opportunities, both within the university and beyond. These opportunities have furthered my leadership roles and public speaking skills, as evidenced by my participation in conferences, symposia and training sessions as a facilitator. Moreover, engaging in global networking has deepened my knowledge of issues such as domestic violence and gender equality, providing a comprehensive, global perspective. I have enhanced my critical thinking skills, finding linkages between international issues and my country’s context. The Australia Awards Scholarship has truly been a transformative experience, shaping both my personal and professional trajectory in meaningful ways.

Rakshya with other Nepali scholars at the 2023 Scholars Forum in Canberra.

What has your life in Australia so far been like outside of the university environment?

Beyond my academic studies, this past year in Australia has been an incredibly enriching experience. The country’s diversity has left me in awe, offering profound insights into the various cultures and backgrounds of its residents. As I explored opportunities beyond the academic realm, I encountered numerous noteworthy experiences. Some of the key achievements during this year include active involvement in professional development, and engagement in volunteering and community participation. I initiated the establishment of the Nepalese Club within the university, contributing to a sense of community and cultural exchange. I also took on the role of a mentor in the university’s mentor–mentee program in 2023, focusing on providing support for international students. During this time, my responsibilities included guiding mentees through university facilities and resources, as well as assisting them in adapting to the academic environment. I also had the privilege of engaging in a discussion with Professor Kristin Natalier, the Dean of Education at Flinders University, focusing on enhancing the wellbeing of international students and promoting accessibility in facilities and resources.

My journey began with participation in a professional development skills workshop within the university, focusing on communication, network building and leadership. Attending conferences and symposia provided me with opportunities to enhance my ability to foster collaboration among individuals and officials from diverse backgrounds, all united in the pursuit of gender equality. These events acted as a catalyst for improving my skills and knowledge in the field, promoting a broader and more interconnected approach to this crucial cause. As one of the panellists at the Australia Awards – South Asia & Mongolia 2023 Scholars Forum in Canberra, I had the immense honour of sharing my thoughts on the fundamental challenges surrounding gender equality and social inclusion in Nepal, highlighting the significance of collaborative networking from a diversity and inclusion perspective.

Within a year, I established a connection with state and federal government representatives, including the Governor of South Australia, Her Excellency the Hon Frances Adamson AC; the state Minister for Women and the Prevention of Domestic and Family Violence, the Hon Katrine Hildyard MP; and the Australian Government’s Domestic, Family and Sexual Violence Commissioner, Micaela Cronin.

Building on this networking, I authored an article published on the Australia Awards – South Asia & Mongolia website. The piece features insights from the Hon Katrine Hildyard MP and South Australia’s Minister for Health and Wellbeing, the Hon Chris Picton MP, and aims to raise awareness about the prevention of domestic and family violence, emphasising specific preventive measures and advocating for action-oriented initiatives in this critical area.

Rakshya meeting the Hon Katrine Hildyard MP at an event.

Another impactful highlight of my experience was my involvement with the Zahra Foundation, a South Australian-based charity supporting women and children affected by domestic and family violence. Volunteering with this organisation allowed me to integrate my academic knowledge and work experience into the training I delivered, which contributed to rebuilding the lives of survivors of domestic and family violence. The foundation has been inclusive and supportive, offering avenues for both personal and professional development. Under the guidance of a supportive supervisor, I have worked towards enhancing my professional skills and achieving my short/long-term goals. I also got an opportunity to deliver a presentation about Zahra Foundation’s initiatives of supporting women to become economically empowered when recovering from domestic and family violence to 16 Australia Awards Fellowship recipients from Southeast Asia, as part of their professional development program.

With a focus on continued learning and exchange of knowledge, I am dedicated to reaching milestones and contributing meaningfully to my academic, personal and professional endeavours.

What do you hope to do once you return to your home country?

Upon returning to Nepal, I intend to focus on addressing the heightened gender-based marginalisation experienced by women in underprivileged communities. This challenge is exacerbated by deeply entrenched social values and norms. My aim is to draw the attention of both the public and stakeholders to the need to address these issues not solely from the binary perspective of men and women but through a nuanced gender lens. I am committed to advocating for an inclusive approach that considers the diverse identities and social categories influencing the experiences of marginalised women. By fostering a more gender-equitable society, I aim to contribute to positive change. I also plan to leverage the enhanced skills in communication, networking and leadership that I have developed during my Scholarship period. My approach involves collaborating with stakeholders such as governmental bodies, civil society organisations and local communities. Through an inclusive and interconnected strategy, I aim to contribute to meaningful initiatives addressing the multifaceted challenges faced by women in marginalised communities.

Rakshya with the Zahra Foundation team.

What advice would you give to future Scholarship recipients?

My advice is to maximise the Scholarship opportunity, not only for academic pursuits but also for personal and professional growth. Step out of your comfort zone, actively engage in networking and connect with diverse individuals to broaden your perspective. Apply your academic knowledge to real world scenarios and embrace opportunities for personal development. This comprehensive approach will empower you to make a lasting impact in your field of study and contribute meaningfully to your community upon your return.