Authored by Eva Sirantoine and Samantha Elie
#PolarPrideDay. Women in STEMM lack representation, in spite of the recent tremendous efforts made around the globe to promote past and present important women and their contributions to the STEMM disciplines. Non-binary people and other gender-diverse people simply have no visibility. I cannot think of a single name, whereas I can now name several women and their contribution to global knowledge. Thankfully Homeward Bound is here and is determined to make a change.
In Puerto Madryn a few days ago, 109 persons boarded the Island Sky, of which 106 are women and three identify as non-binary. I am one of those, and am grateful to be part of this kind, supportive and inclusive initiative.
Back in 2021 when I applied for the programme, I was pleased to read the selection criteria: a background in STEMM, some experience in leadership, and identifying as woman or non-binary. Tick, tick, tick. I did not need to hide and pretend to be a woman, which is something I can do if I don’t feel safe to disclose being non-binary because I am female.
Now I have you all confused: female, woman, that’s the same, right? And what do you mean by ‘non-binary’ anyway? Let me walk you through this and why it matters to get this vocabulary right.
Let’s start with female: that is what I use to refer to my biological, physiological self. Woman and non-binary refer to gender, which covers behaviours, thinking patterns, socialising norms, etc. Many people identify as a man or woman, while others don’t recognise themselves in either. When someone uses the inappropriate gender to refer to you, it gives you that feeling of discomfort, like when someone taps you on the shoulder with an “Excuse me sir” when you’re a woman. It doesn’t sit right with you. In addition to these common terms, is another common descriptive term: femme. Funnily, in French, this means ‘woman’ or ‘wife’! But in English it refers to having a feminine appearance. If you’re lost, that’s ok, just go back to the start of the paragraph and read again. You’ll get this, I started not knowing anything about this, now it’s second nature. Keep practicing.
The Homeward Bound initiative is unique in many ways, the fact that it is targeted at women and non-binaries is a key one. So many leadership courses or visibility campaigns only target women. Here all underrepresented genders have their place and are included in this global network.
Why does it matter to include non-binary people? And does it matter if we mix up the terms? In the ideal world where every human being is equally treated, respected and valued, none of the above matter. In this current world, however, it is vital to get it right. Women are underpaid, their voices are barely heard, their brilliant ideas taken away by others and they receive no credit for them, only to cite a few unfair ways in which they are treated. Non-binary folks simply don’t exist in the current landscape. Yet they are real people, like me, and they deserve recognition too. To be fair, there is a lot more subtlety to this than woman/man/non-binary. Gender concepts are varied across the globe, and I am not even remotely trying to cover them all.
The point here is to recognise that there is an alternative to the usual binary woman/man division of genders, even if it is only the tip of the iceberg, and to celebrate the inclusion of these gender-diverse people in this incredible journey. Making sure that a diversity of genders are included, and that the language used to refer to the participants is correct, is a crucial component to Homeward Bound. It creates visibility for otherwise invisible people, it validates their existence and their experiences in STEMM, it creates role-models for other women and gender-diverse folks.
What Homeward Bound is creating is a network with a culture of true inclusion, where there is space for all, and where we elevate each other’s voices to have impact for a more sustainable future.
Photo: At Saunders Island. Credit: Karen Alexander