Five La Trobe women working to drive change, improve gender equality and sustainability

Five La Trobe women working to drive change, improve gender equality and sustainability

Gender inequality and the climate crisis are two of today’s most urgent challenges. From increasing women’s representation in leadership and decision-making to resisting the dominant narratives that drive mass displacement of people, food insecurity and environmental degradation, making progress towards a sustainable future starts with empowering women and creating opportunities that benefit the less privileged.

Meet five La Trobe scholars making the connections between gender, social equity and climate change, highlighting actions and solutions that will help us build a more sustainable future.

Applying an engineering mindset to equality and sustainability: Professor Wenny Rahayu

As an esteemed expert in data engineering, complete with a PhD in computer science, La Trobe’s Dean of Computing, Engineering and Mathematical Sciences, Professor Wenny Rahayu has earned an international reputation as a compassionate and strategic, level-headed leader.

When it comes to the climate crisis, Rayahu believes it is a collective responsibility, and that data, smart technologies and analytics can play a key role in helping scientists track and adapt to change:

‘It’s the diverse range of applications and the pronounced impact that technology can have on the community which I find most compelling about working in this field. Data and sensor technologies will enable industries and individuals to accurately capture and monitor environmental changes which drive timely decision making.’

Professor Rayahu speaks more about how industry can improve gender equality in STEM

Understanding the Himalayas and our fraught relationship with water: Dr Ruth Gamble

Environmental historian of the Himalaya, Dr Ruth Gamble, explores the intersecting and interconnecting histories of the world’s great river systems, and the people, ecologies, climates, cultures, societies and politics revolve around them. It is a region that plays a critical role in human (and more-than-human) wellbeing:

‘Nearly half the world’s human population depends on [the Himalayan Watershed’s] climate-water systems. I find the scale incredibly compelling. When you look at it through its climate and water cycles and the long-term history of the region, you begin to appreciate both the biodiversity and human populations these systems support. We get a different picture of the region, one I believe is more helpful.

We can see how all these things are interconnected. How climate, other earth systems, and human histories stretch beyond the boxed-in ways we tend to think about Asia.

To deal with human problems, problems created by humans and problems that humans face, we need to get to grips with the places where humans live — and loads of them live along these waterways.’

Dr Gamble believes we can ease the climate crisis by fixing the impacts of colonialism. Read how.

Revealing the toxic legacies of mining: Dr Lilian Pearce

Exploring the legacies of mining in Australia and how its toxic remnants have been understood, resisted, managed and silenced, can provide a framework for contemporary debate around controversial mine approvals, and the responsibility that big corporations have towards the environment and the community.

Dr Lilian Pearce’s most recent research focused on on lead contamination in Broken Hill:

‘Often, my work involves content that is uncomfortable, challenging, and political. This is when I know I’m doing my best work, but it’s hard. [Environmental history] works to address the climate crisis by articulating and challenging the extractive and violent relationships that underpin many societies’ engagements with the non-human world, and with one another. There are so many dominant assumptions about how the country can be treated that are informed by values and myths that need a complete and collective re-write. History can help to not only recognise and celebrate this important work, but also to realise the way that it has been employed as a mechanism to prop up extractive and toxic industries.

A sustainable and equitable future requires a diversity of voices, says Dr Pearce. Read more.

Displacement, resettlement and resistance: Dr Brooke Wilmsen

Around 21.5 million people worldwide are displaced every year by climate change-related events, of these, 80% are women. Dr Brooke Wilmsen researches how people respond and resist major developmental interventions, such as forced displacement, resettlement, or agricultural reform.

‘Interventions to be spatially unbounded, historically enabled and politically produced rather than altruistic responses to social or environmental problems. In unpacking how people respond to these interventions I seek to understand how people resist or cleverly incorporate such interventions in their everyday lives. This discourse has been driven mostly by men who have contributed to making the displacement of people from their land a profession. This now underpins a narrative that sees resettlement not only as a viable option, but even a preferred intervention to climate change, environmental degradation, poverty and development over more in-situ responses based on local knowledges.

There’s little evidence that resettlement can improve the lives and livelihoods of those displaced, but the narrative is strong – a small group of us are fighting against this narrative to protect people from organised mass displacement.’

Read more about how powerful organisations use climate change as an excuse to seize land and displace people against their will.

Mining stories at the nexus of intersecting issues: Dr Natalie Araujo

Dr Natalie Araujo is a lecturer in Anthropology and Development Studies, focusing on intersecting issues of structural violence, trauma, agency and gender.

Her work is concentrated on understanding the impacts of structural violence and inequality, and, perhaps more importantly , on the creative and generative ways that communities and individuals who experience structural disadvantage adapt as they strive for wellbeing and better futures:

‘I spend a lot of time talking to people about their lives and their experiences of the world. I really believe in the power of storytelling and that it can reveal much about the choices that individuals make.

Recently, I have been engaged in research that has examined issues of health information accessibility, specifically of COVID-19 health messaging for culturally and linguistically diverse communities in Victoria. I’m curious as to whether digital technologies can create more accessible, culturally contextualised, and timely health information for culturally and linguistically diverse communities.’

Regarding the climate crisis: ‘Understanding myriad individual and community-level responses can result in better policy and, ultimately, in better outcomes.

Learn more about how Dr Araujo is exploring the multifaceted effects of gendered expectations.

Climate, gender equality and sustainability on International Women’s Day

On International Women’s Day, we aim to shine a spotlight on global issues that perpetuate gender inequality, those that are structural, systemic and often a world away from the privileged lives that many of us lead here in Australia.

This year’s theme is Changing Climates: Equality today for a sustainable tomorrow. In the context of the climate crisis, we recognise that women and children are more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change impacts than men. We also know that women and girls are effective and powerful leaders in addressing climate change, especially at a local level.


At La Trobe, we are proud to be striving towards alignment with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, including taking action to create a more gender equal world – we currently rank 2nd among the world’s universities for Gender Equality and 1st in Australia. We’ve been a signatory to the Athena SWAN Charter since 2015 and offer a range of Women’s Academic Support programs and scholarships to address equity issues and the gender pay gap.

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