Griffith postgraduate student Emily Ragus has been awarded a prestigious Sir John Monash Scholarship and plans to use it to pave the way for women in healthcare.

Emily has been an emergency nurse for 15 years, responding to everything from farming accidents in remote Australia and delivering a baby on the side of the road in the middle of the night, to a mass casualty bus crash in Vanuatu.

She plans on using the 2021 Judith Neilson Foundation John Monash Scholarship, worth $70,000 per year for up to three years, to research how gender empowerment during disasters could be used as a health diplomacy tool and to continue fighting for inclusion and diversity in her field.

“There have been great advancements in gender equality within disaster management, but we fall drastically short in terms of inclusion,” Emily said.

“Diversity is giving a woman a seat at the table, but inclusion is listening to what they have to say.”

She hopes the connections she makes with her scholarship allow her to establish a consultancy to improve processes in large organisations such as the United Nations (UN) or non-government organisations around issues of poor gender integration, lack of leadership and cultural problems.

Gender Equality is listed as number five on the UN’s list of Sustainable Development Goals.

The Master of Global Development student says women working in male dominated health industries often experience subtle forms of gender discrimination and have to go the extra mile to prove themselves an asset to the team because of their gender.

“Women’s professional abilities are often relegated to the background while comments about hair, lipstick, or sexual jokes remain frequent topics of workplace conversation,” Emily said.

“The strengths women can bring to the table are often disregarded.

“I hope the impact of my research is that female graduates will not have to experience discrimination, but they will also have respect.”

COVID-19 further highlighted inequalities

The nurse says the present-day disaster of COVID-19 highlight the need for women’s voices in healthcare to be heard in the fight to end domestic violence — something she says directly correlates to gender stereotypes.

Emily Ragus.

“This pandemic has shone a light on an epidemic that women in Australia have been battling in silence for decades — domestic abuse,” Emily said.

“Australian culture is based on stereotypical gender roles.

“Upholding these stereotypes only strengthens the position of the violent perpetrator and increases the gender disparity gap.

“My PhD, with the support of this scholarship, will improve the inadequacies of current research findings regarding gender-based violence in disasters whilst establishing an innovative framework for emergency response teams when working with affected women.

“Qualitative data will allow the previously unheard voices of women who are leaders in disaster management, as well as survivors of violence themselves, to tell their personal stories.”

She says frontline health professionals are powerless to combat the inequities without systemic structural and organisational support, and hopes her research informs the development of innovative technological solutions and organisational processes.

Due to the pervasiveness of the issue of women in disasters, Emily says women need to be better supported to become specialists in the field.

She believes to understand the problems that a community faces, the voices of the entire community need to be heard.

“When I consider my achievements by my 50th birthday, I envision an established career as an international expert in gender studies in disasters,” she said.

“It is predicted that Australia and the Pacific will continue to be impacted by more devastating disasters in the future.

“My research will solidify Australia’s position as global leaders in disaster management, ensuring that female voices within the community and healthcare sector are part of this evolutionary change.”

Emily received the Winston Churchill Fellowship in 2018, which allowed her to study a Diploma of International Humanitarian Assistance at New York City’s Fordham University in New York City and was the stepping stone to embarking in this direction

The Sir John Monash Scholarship was first awarded in 2004 and recognises postgraduates who have demonstrated excellence in their field, leadership potential, and a vision for how they can contribute to a better Australia.