As India launches its lunar mission Chandrayaan 2 today from Sriharikota at 2:43 p.m, the gaze of the world will be on this mission. With this mission, India will become the fourth country to land on the moon. This achievement is made even more special because the Chandryaan 2 mission is directed by two women scientists, Mission Director Ritu Karidhal and the Project Director Vanitha M, who were also part of the successful Mars Orbiter Mission. Author Minnie Vaid had written a book “Those Magnificent Women and Their Flying Machines” on the women behind the ISRO mission, about the struggles and hurdles which this women team overcame to make this dream come true. In a twitter chat with SheThePeople, Minnie Vaid unveiled the inspiring story behind these amazing women.

Inspiration To Write The Book

“The challenges faced by these women were not ordinary, that’s why they deserve to get the limelight’. This inspired Minnie to tell their story to the world and make their efforts little more visible. “In fact, everyone in the country, male or female, should know who these ‘magnificent women‘ are, as also the work that they do. I attended an IWN-CII seminar where Ritu, Minal and Moumita of the Mars mission spoke about their contribution– eloquently and matter of factly; I was spellbound and asked them later if I could do a book. They pointed me towards ISRO PR and that’s how I began”, said Minnie.

Read Also: Rocket Woman Power: Meet Ritu Karidhal, Mission Director Chandrayaan-2

Overcoming Challenges and Stereotypes

To begin with, it wouldn’t have been easy for these women to step into the field of science and technology, which is considered to be “men’s territory”. Talking about some of the stereotypes which revolve around these women, Minnie said, “It begins with the family discouraging the girl child from STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). Then generalising about how family and mommy tracks would hinder their climb; working long hours on research, not being able to travel, not being able to give 100 per cent due to kids and much more”.

Often women have to work twice as hard as men to make their own space and get recognition. Talking about the struggles at workplace Minnie said, “I can speak only of those I interviewed (Mars mission and others). They said ‘the work speaks for itself’. However unofficially one of the center directors did tell me that by and large women did have to work a little harder to reach the same level”.

Limitations On Female Scientists and Bridging the Gender Gap

When it comes to women and their career, many prejudices and disadvantages influence their decisions. Especially when it comes to unconventional career choices like being a scientist or an astronaut. It becomes difficult for them to break all the preconceived notions. “A career in science requires long hours, unusual hours, travel and endurance. Maternity breaks would halt their progress and missions. The ‘old-boys’ network would see men rising higher and that awards/recognition would be less. The family would need to ‘allow” them,” said Minnie.

Changing this mindset won’t be easy but few baby steps towards equality can slowly bring a massive change in society, in the long run. “Changing mindsets to remove gender discrimination isn’t something that can happen with a few steps, it can take a generation to do so. A recent lot of women scientists, including DRDO’s J Manjula, are trailblazers in this regard, so are all the ISRO women,” she said. We have to start from the beginning by training our children and designing a proper school curriculum which is not discriminatory.

In order to overcome these challenges, again, the support of the family is very important. “Each of the 21 ISRO scientists I interviewed ‘thanked’ their family, their support system, emphasizing that both needed equal focus, prioritising according to the need,” said Minnie. Further quoting the female scientist, she said, “We work during the day for the mission, work night shifts too and in between look after family.”

Read Also: Life After MARS Mission: Catching up with India’s Stellar Space Scientists

Role Model Women Behind The Mangalyaan Mission

All the precision and determination with which these women made this mission successful is commendable. All young minds especially young girls should consider Ritu Karidhal and Vanitha M as their role models.

We should teach our kids from the very beginning to be ‘gender-sensitive’ in order to create an equal society for all. “Better designed school curriculums where automatically doctors are NOT male and nurses NOT female. More awareness so scoffing boys do not grow up into chauvinistic bosses. Also treating maternity breaks as a social necessity, seniority not lost due to these, etc”, she said.

To encourage more and more women for opting STEM we require to come out of our nutshell and believe in the concept of equal opportunity. Talking about how to bridge the gender gap, Minnie said, “‘Break the break’ that help scientists get back to work post the childbirth/child-raising years, the grants cover women till age 56 I think”.

Picture Credit: Minnie Vaid/Speaking Tiger Publishing

Also Read: Meet Vanitha Muthayya, Project Director Of ISRO Chandrayaan 2 Mission

Divya Tripathi is an intern with SheThePeopl.TV

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