My success is not hindered because of my gender — it is driven by it

Graphic by Sophie Lin

I was lucky enough to win a ticket to a HeForShe event in New York and was getting a head start on the jet-setting life style of which I’ve always dreamed. I got to NYC on Friday, left on Saturday, and spent the rest of the weekend at a robotics competition. I left New York feeling invigorated (and exhausted) because the trip and my experiences were so inspiring.

I’ve had my fair share of people disliking me because I’m headstrong, stubborn, and boy do I have a mouth sometimes.

People are startled when I am not afraid to speak my mind, when I scream at sports games, or when I am able to put bigots in their place with a few words and sharp looks.

What I cannot for the life of me fathom is why people have a problem with women who are successful in non-traditional activities.

Mine was a robotics program. When I was in grade 11, I joined robotics at my high school and I wasn’t sure that I would ever be good at it. But I was, and I still am. Fast forward six years and I have been mentoring in robotics since I left high school.

My track record in the program speaks for itself: every time I help a new team, or start one, they are successful. More successful than anyone thinks they can be.

The best examples of the problems that come from women in robotics come from the experiences I had when transitioning into being a mentor in the program and starting a team in a small town. I approached the teachers at the school who had shown interest in starting a team and told them everything I could do to help them. They were on board, and we had a great first year–winning awards locally and internationally. But then some new teachers wanted to get involved on the team, and they did not believe that women had anything to offer to a STEM-focused program. This new teacher did everything he could to make sure there was no longer a spot for me on the team I had started, because of my gender.

When I came to UW, I was told that because I was a woman in an arts program I was not qualified to be involved in helping run, plan, or execute anything related to the program that I am part of and in which I have been successful.

This past weekend, while I was at the robotics tournament, I was reminded of my place in the robotics program as both a female mentor and role model to all the young women who are part of the program now. I do not take this role lightly. There is a clear line I will never cross when working with students and I make sure that the environment that I am in is the best one for the most students.

The team that I have been helping this year won the most prestigious award in the program. People were ecstatic, and so was I — I still am. I can in no way take credit for the outcome of years of hard work, but I can say that I did my best to make this goal a reality for the students.

The passionate people that I was surrounded by during the process in previous years and this one are the only reason I stayed in the program. One of my biggest supporters is male, and while we disagree on many things I would have quit a long time ago if it wasn’t for him, so yes, not all men. And while I’m honoured to know some of the women I’ve met in the program, others make it clear that they are in the program for the wrong reasons and not learning anything, day in and day out.

The thing that gets to me is that when I was being congratulated as a mentor for the award, there were still people who looked confused and dumbfounded that I was able to help make this a reality.

Why? For all they know I could be graduating at the top of my class in an engineering program. I’m not. But by just looking at me they would not be able to tell. All they can tell by looking at me is that I am a woman in a STEM activity and for some people that is too much to wrap their little minds around. I belong where I choose to belong. And if that is too much for people to understand then they should probably take a step back and remove themselves from an environment that is attempting to be inclusive.

All I know is that whatever comes next, I can do it, I will do it, and I know that even if I am not good at it right away I will learn.

Don’t let anyone ever stop you from achieving your goals.

Rameesha Qazi 

5B, Honours English Literature