Empowering women leaders for a sustainable future

This year’s theme for Earth Day, “Invest in Our Planet”, is a continuation of 2022’s successful campaign. It serves as a rallying cry to soldier on with conservation efforts towards a sustainable future.

To mark the global event observed annually on 22 April, DISTED College has organised a remote panel discussion featuring renowned experts from academia and industry on 20 April 2023. During the virtual session chaired by DISTED President, Prof Dr Vikneswaran Nair, guest panellists examined various green issues impacting the properties, manufacturing, higher education, hospitality, and tourism sectors.

WOU’s Head of Centre for ODL Experiences (COLE), Assoc Prof Dr Dewi Binti Amat Sapuan offered her perspective on achieving Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5 which concerns gender equality. Interestingly, she gave a brief but thought-provoking talk on the role of women leaders in higher education advocating for a sustainable world.

Prof Nair welcomes participants to the virtual session.

Reflecting on the COVID-19 pandemic, she observed that it has magnified the role of working women in society, especially on the frontlines at work and at home.

Alluding to the long-standing structural inequalities experienced in various aspects, Dr Dewi said the pandemic has already served as a wake-up call for economies around the world about the importance of placing women at the centre of recovery and post-pandemic management efforts.

She further highlighted another evidence on gender inequality as revealed in the UN Women (United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women) report on the COVID-19 global gender response tracker. “At the point of this report, 20% of 206 countries around the world have had no gender-sensitive measures implemented at all,” she said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has magnified women’s role in society, says Dr Dewi.

According to Dr Dewi, numerous past studies have demonstrated that women leaders show greater concern about climate change and its potential effects on future generations, and are particularly well-suited to spearhead climate action.

Unfortunately, she noted, despite abundant evidence proving women’s leadership capabilities in education, there remains to be a disconnect between what is envisioned and translating the vision into reality through feasible actions.

This, she pointed out, is apparent in the underrepresentation of women in higher education leadership, especially in developing countries where men are often favoured for leadership roles due to the perceived notion of “toughness”.

Dr Dewi heads the Centre for ODL Experiences.

Additionally, Dr Dewi shared some insights from the “Women Leaders: Shaping the Future for a Sustainable World” training programme jointly organised by WOU and the Commonwealth of Learning (COL) in 2022.

She highlighted four key elements that are essential to support women leaders in higher education work towards a sustainable future.

Firstly, she stressed that women leaders must be provided with mentorship, “because mentorship will provide them the safe space to grow and to have access to networks and other connections”.

Secondly, she emphasised the need for women leaders to create stronger networks in order to enact change.

Sharing valuable insights.

The third element, according to Dr Dewi, is to empower women in Information and Communications Technology (ICT). “Women leaders require these skill sets and the knowledge to be able to leverage on new technologies and social media platforms to accelerate the progress of their initiatives.”

Finally, she underscored the need to enable more women to champion climate change issues. In the context of higher education, she suggested transforming the curriculum and supporting more community projects initiated by universities.

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