Meet the winner- Sheen Gurrib
Having been the first girl from Mauritius to have attended both Oxford and Cambridge universities, I’ve been aware of the barriers that exist at every step of the academic journey for girls. I grew up being acutely aware of my privileges and recognising how the education system is flawed when it comes to girls. This is why when I was at university, I’ve been actively trying to play my part in levelling the playing fields.
I set up an educational charity, Project Access for Refugees, as an extension of Project Access, to offer free mentoring to students of refugee backgrounds, to support them in their applications to tertiary education. We have successfully helped 9 students, some from the Mahama Refugee Camps, within the first year of the launch. I also launched Reach OxBridge in Mauritius, to help demystify these institutions with global reputations, and 4 students who went through the programme have successfully gained admission. I am also a STEM Ambassador and I’ve been actively involved in the Cambridge Science Festival, Physics at Work, Making Materials Matter and several outreach programmes targeted at girls. In March 2021, I gave a TEDx talk at Cambridge University titled ‘Relearning the ABCs if Girls’ Education’ where I discussed the differences in the barriers to access education for different girls and how we should move away from the practice of bracketing all girls under the same umbrella while trying to solve the challenges. I also talked about the importance of changing the mindsets and breaking down stereotypes in order to create more opportunities for women in the workplace as well.
As I started to enter the professional world, I realised that the inequalities that women face persist and are still very different for different groups of women. Being deeply interested in global health and policies, I set out to tackle different problems. I started with publishing a policy brief on the mental health of refugees in the UK, especially women, as part of a global health think tank Polygeia. I then worked with a leading female scientist at the university to find the right markets in the developing world to commercialise a new wound dressing and water filter in order to aid female caregivers. I also started a needs-based venture addressing the high maternal mortality rate in Kenya with two of my fellow RisingWISE friends, to assist the education of young mothers and raising awareness against teenage pregnancies. I am also the ambassador of a project led by UNICEF India, as a World Economic Forum Global Shaper (from the Cambridge Hub) helping address period poverty, improving the sanitation of 200,000 women in Maharashtra. As a Wonder Woman of Oxford University, I’ve also had the chance of meeting and mentoring female PhD students wanting to venture into entrepreneurship. I also co-created the Instagram Page ‘The WOC Tribe’ to create a community of like-minded women of colour and to empower and support each other.
My most precious project is my podcast: Dream, Girl. It is a weekly show, where I host women of different ages, races, nationalities and from different professional spheres where we chat about their journeys, the importance of representation, and generally share our lived experiences as women. The first season of the podcast has over 10,000 downloads and I have now created a YouTube channel to not only host the podcast but also to share my experiences and to have mindful conversations about contemporary issues. I thoroughly enjoy interacting with and learning from my guests and my audience, I find this truly fulfilling.
I’ve taken every opportunity that showed up, and I’ve actively sought out experiences and ways to upskill myself while doing something meaningful. And because of this my experience of university has been incredible! There is so much to learn, and so much to give back, university fosters the best environment for this and I cannot recommend it enough.
Receiving the Vice Chancellor’s Social Impact Award for my work on girl’s education and women empowerment shows a concerted effort to close the gender gap in education and the workplace once and for all. Especially in today’s troubling times, where COVID19 has only exacerbated the existing inequalities, it is crucial that we protect the advances we’ve made so far in empowering girls, while we ensure that no one is being left behind.