Explore and stand out professionally – Asha de Vos | Sunday Observer

Explore and stand out professionally – Asha de Vos

Pic : Wimal Karunathilake
Pic : Wimal Karunathilake

The First African-American female astronaut, Dr. Mae Jemison once said, “Never be limited by other people’s limited imaginations.”

Our own Marine Biologist, Ocean Educator and Blue Whale project pioneer, Dr. Asha de Vos echoed similar sentiments last week when she delivered the keynote speech at the ‘Ring the Bell for Gender Equality’ event, organised by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) in partnership with the Colombo Stock Exchange (CSE) to mark International Women’s Day.

In her inspirational speech, de Vos advocated that women should not wait till the system creates an opportunity for them, but explore and stand out professionally, so that the system would open up a way for women to make their own path to excel in.

The Ladies College alumni and the blue whale researcher, de Vos told a packed audience, comprising mainly women executives, that gender should not be a barrier to women’s potential.

“Women should solve problems - they should become resourceful people that organisations and societies can rely on regardless of their gender. That is where we all want to be and that is so incredibly important,” she said.

De Vos was thankful to her parents who she said were concerned of her education more than that of her brother’s, because they knew a guy could even start as a ‘garbage collector’ and rise as the system was in favour of men more than women.

She grew up in a family where gender biased decisions were not made - so her father assured her of getting a good education. With that assurance, she explored the oceans of opportunities until she finally found out her real value and capacity. That changed her life.

“People often tell me I have an amazing life. They say I am lucky and I ask them, lucky? We all had dreams as children - the sun shines on every single one of us, but we also have our choices, and you create your luck by the choices you make every day in your life. So, if you are not happy with your life, don’t put that on anyone else. Accept the choices and decisions that you have made, celebrate the choices that others have made and support them,” she said, adding that “judgmental people in our society try to put their own ideas into the heads of others and stop their journeys in life. There shouldn’t be any gender tag attached to any job or dream.”

She said, she has an amazing life now, not because she is single or not having children to spend the time with. It was a lot of hard work and sacrifices which took her to the position where she is today. “Most critics I’ve met are also women. What we need is the control over our own life without getting carried away by the views of others.”

There were times she wanted to give up. “I have dealt with a lot of different things to get to where I am today. I could have given it up many years ago. But at that time I started to think what defines me? Am I defined by the car I drive - or the house I live in - or the labels that I wear - or am I defined by purpose? I then realised that I am defined by purpose.”

As a marine biologist who has seen the dangers of the way the oceans are polluted, she says, we all have a responsibility to look after it. “Most people on this planet are in an abusive relationship with the ocean.

And anyone who judges me for not having children, don’t forget: your children are my children and I am looking after this planet, I am looking after the ocean so that your children won’t suffer, they will be safe and have a healthier life in the future. Don’t judge; support, understand, have these conversations with each other,” she added.

Asha de Vos presents key note address