Using research to propel gender equality advocacy forward with Theresa W. Devasahayam
A conversation with Theresa W. Devasahayam about achieving gender-equality using sound research to support advocacy.
Ruam Chuay’s interview series, Sparking Conversations, shines a spotlight on advocates and changemakers in our community who to work to create a safer world. We hope to inspire and share ways you can make a difference in your community.
We’re happy to bring you this interview with Theresa W. Devasahayam. Theresa has worked as a gender specialist for over 24 years. Her work ranges from conducting research on gender issues in Southeast Asia to working as a consultant for international development projects.
Through her work, she’s supported initiatives that further gender equality and has gained a wealth of knowledge on issues faced by women, in particular migrants and elder women. In addition to research on gender issues, Theresa also explores food security, holds a Ph.D. from Syracuse University, and has published a number of books and journal articles.
Here’s her story!
Theresa W. Devashayam
Gender Specialist and Soroptimist International UN Representative
Introduce yourself! Tell us a little bit about your background and work.
I specialize on gender issues and have worked in the area for more than 24 years. I research on a range of gender concerns, including women migrants, older women and women and their role in food security.
I also complement my research on women with action-oriented work since women are considered a vulnerable group and have their disadvantages compared with men — differences and vulnerabilities bound up with their gender identity.
To me, good and effective advocacy work can only be undertaken if supported by sound research. And thus I see my work in research and advocacy as complementing each other.
Why did you choose to pursue a career that helps people the way you do? What motivated you?
I have always grown up knowing that women have their battles because of their gender identity. I wanted to engage in work that can change women’s lives for the better and that they are given a chance to progress and make meaning out of their lives. I feel compelled to do something positive for women because I am aware that the world is male-dominated and there are very few societies where there is genuine gender parity in all arenas.
Were there any challenges you faced while addressing social issues in your line of work?
I have worked on issues of gender-based violence — not as a social worker per se but instead as an expert called upon to undertake an evaluation or assessment in the development sector. While the contexts/situations varied, by and large, I found that many women, as well as girls who are victims of gender inequality, are fearful of change and in helping themselves; many women (and girls) are fearful of moving out in the world without the male figures in their lives whom they have become dependent on for many years, if not decades. Women also seem to lack confidence and this is partly to do with lack of education and a support structure/network. If only women who have progressed can come forward and help others, half the battle is won. In consciousness-raising, friendships and trust also need to be cultivated to enable women to help women.
What is one thing that you think survivors of gender-based violence should know?
That the situation is not your fault and that there is a way out to a better, healthier and safer life.
What is one thing you think people can do to have healthier relationships?
To have confidence and pride in who the person is as an individual.
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