We, at The SAARI Collective, wish to acknowledge and celebrate International Women’s Day all week. We invite you to join us in recognising and celebrating the efforts, achievements and immense contributions of South Asian women across Australia.
Join us as we profile some resilient and inspiring South Asian women over the coming days. Today, we’re celebrating Dr Meru Sheel and Daizy Maan, who advocate for equality in leadership, the sciences, representation of young people, and human rights, and who both fight to make our community stronger and more inclusive.
Profile - Meru Sheel
“Lead with authenticity and be true to your cause.”
Dr Meru Sheel is a global health researcher and an infectious diseases epidemiologist with expertise in public health emergencies, emerging infectious and vaccine-preventable diseases. She is also a Westpac Research Fellow at the Australian National University (ANU).
Originally from India, Dr Sheel completed her undergraduate training at Manipal University in India before moving to Australia. She then earned a PhD in life sciences from the Queensland Institute of Medical Research and the Queensland University of Technology and completed her post-doctoral training in parasite immunology. After working for several years in infectious diseases, Dr Sheel trained as an epidemiologist at the ANU and the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance.
A leading professional in her field, Dr Sheel has worked in several dynamic and challenging environments in Australia and the Asia-Pacific region including India, Cambodia, Samoa, American Samoa. She also consults with the World Health Organization and has responded to international emergencies in Fiji, Dominica, the Rohingya Crisis in Cox's Bazar Bangladesh, Tonga and Papua New Guinea. In 2019, she supported multiple international COVID-19 responses.
In 2019, Dr Sheel was also recognised as the Science and Medicine winner for 40 Under 40 Most Influential Asian-Australians. In 2020, Dr Sheel was also awarded the ANU Vice Chancellor's Awards for Impact and Engagement.
A strong advocate for gender equity and passionate about seeing women in leadership positions, she admires the works of her friends, colleagues and Yasmin Poole as a leader.
“I was in awe of her (Yasmin’s) courage, words and vision to advocate for women in leadership.”
“With people like her, I feel more optimistic that we will see change and even more women in leadership positions,” says Dr Sheel.
She also believes women face extra barriers due to a complex myriad of reasons from societal expectations, institutional barriers and unconsciousness biases.
She says these barriers are heightened for people of colour, as they “experience an extra layer of glass, some call it bamboo ceiling – and some of us call it the cement ceiling”.
However, she also boldly states that these barriers can be smashed.
She urges other South Asian girls and women to have the courage and not to give up.
“Surround yourself with like-minded people, support others in your network to achieve their goals and lift other women.”
Dr Sheel recommends seizing and actively looking for opportunities and says “put your hand up if there is an opportunity that you are interested in.”
She feels communities have great capabilities in ensuring women play a role in leadership and decision making.
“We need to hear what women are experiencing and find solutions to the challenges."
“We need to create more enabling and positive structures in society around women, so they feel comfortable to take on leadership positions.”
She believes oftentimes women’s voices are ignored and communities should start by listening to the women and their opinions around them.
“As a community, we should be aiming to see equal representation of females and males in leadership positions, but also then ensuring that the work at home and societal expectations are also the same,” says Dr Sheel.
This year, she chooses to challenge the status quo and the idea that young women cannot be leaders and hopes to inspire women around her to take charge.
Dr Sheel now conducts operational research in infectious diseases and immunization, finding solutions for disease prevention and rapid response in case of outbreaks at ANU. She is also an active science communicator and advocates for increasing STEM-trained workforce globally.
Profile - Daizy Maan
“Dream big and start small - It’s consistent small steps that lead to impact.”
Daizy Maan wears many hats. She hosts The Daizy Project, a podcast that explores living a purposeful life through meaningful conversations with bold entrepreneurs, leaders and change-makers. She has spoken at BMW, Pausefest and on a panel discussion with Ela Gandhi (Human Rights activist and Granddaughter of Mahatma Gandhi).
While trying to complete her Commerce and Law degree, she travelled to Tanzania working on social impact projects. She also travelled to Thailand as an ‘Australian Youth Ambassador for Development’, assisting in legal aid for refugees and to the Himalayas to resolve her quarter-life crisis through meditation. She's currently on a mission to squeeze in writing a memoir and building a social movement to empower South Asian women through the Australian South Asian Centre.
Passionate about young people shaping the future, social entrepreneurship and representation, Daizy is also the founder of the Australian Digital Job Accelerator which equips young people with the skills to get digital work. At the age of 21, she also served on the board of directors for Australia’s largest Community Bank company (NSX: CSH) and at 22, was appointed to lead Deakin University’s entrepreneurship programs for over 60,000 students. The initiative, SPARK Deakin has since invested in 87 founders and engaged 10 000 people in their community events.
“I used to get angry at injustice. I still do, but now I become aware of how that feels in my body to be so angry.
“I welcome the rage but I act only out of love - love for those being oppressed, love for those whose voices have been silenced for too long and even love for those who I do not yet understand,” says Daizy.
She also admired Leila Janah as a leader and learnt a great deal about social entrepreneurship following Leila’s work.
Daizy believes South Asian girls and women can step into leadership by having an entrepreneurial attitude and says “many South Asian women I know work incredibly hard, study with dedication and commit themselves, but when it comes to leadership or entrepreneurship they feel out of their depth.”
She encourages South Asian girls and women to be curious, generous and be proactive about making connections.
“Even if someone seemed like they were in a really senior position, I would send them a LinkedIn request or email them for a coffee.
“I always ask questions and learn about them, then I’d do my best to be generous – share their articles, engage with their online content or if they’re not online I’d make sure to send them a thoughtful email,” she says.
This year, Daizy chooses to challenge what success means and looks like.
“I choose to challenge the standard definition of success, from climbing a corporate ladder to making a difference.”
Pranjali Sehgal is a writer, public servant and member of SAARI's Editorial Team.