International Women's Day 2023 | Interview with GCR Women's Officer, Barani Maung Maung

International Women's Day 2023 | Interview with GCR Women's Officer, Barani Maung Maung

8 March 2023

For International Women’s Day, we spoke to recently elected GCR Women’s Officer Barani about the female role models in her life, her plans for the year, and her hopes for the future of women’s rights. Barani is studying for an MSc in the Social Science of the Internet.

What inspired you to run for the post of Women’s Officer?

I wanted to cultivate a close community, especially since I am only doing a one-year MSc, and only here for a short period of time, so I want to make sure that I made the most out of that year. I was working for a couple of years before coming to Oxford at Meta (Facebook) in Dublin, and there I was part of the women's organisation, an internal women's group. Prior to that, when I was in the States going to school, I was also part of the all-women organisation there. So, I've always been part of some sort of women's community and for me, that was really important, and that's why I decided to run. It is also nice because it gives me, alongside other members of the committee, the opportunity to plan events for the entire St Antony’s female community. I feel it is a great opportunity to advocate and push some good initiatives, as well as to build a community of fellow Antonian women and simply make space where women can feel connected, supported, and have a sense of belonging.

What do you see as the main issues facing female students?

At St Antony’s, we are an international community, a lot of us are not from the UK or even close to here; we are far from home and we're trying to build a support system here. As Women’s Officers, what we're trying to create in the next couple of terms, is to have a solid foundation where people can come together and get to know each other a little bit more. To share experiences and hardships that women may have, for peer support, to lessen that burden on those who have transitioned to a completely new environment. The university is one of the best in the world, and it can be stressful! We are all here to do one-year or two-year courses or a DPhil and that is a lot of pressure. What we want to do right now is create a space for women to come together and support each other so that they feel less of that pressure and ease the homesickness or loneliness.

One of the issues we would like to address is that, because we are international, we don't know how to navigate a lot of the health systems here and this can be harder for women. We are working with the College to help us navigate and understand the existing health support provided through the College, University, and NHS. We’re working on building a centralised document just so it makes it easy for people to navigate - we provide free pregnancy tests and condoms as a college, and we will be providing free menstrual products – but making sure women are signposted to the resources on offer, as navigating this on top of everything else can be a huge hurdle.

We also want to have more presence in terms of advocacy, to have some uncomfortable conversations about feminism and critically probe the topic, talk about why it matters, how you can build allyship, and what inclusive feminism is, and so on. We have feedback from students that these are the kind of topics they also want to see talked about in the college community.

A diverse student body means that there's a wide array of interests and issue areas, but other than that, there's also just the fact that woman-identifying folks at St Antony's really want to have spaces to come together. We just had the Women's Formal, and we heard nothing but positive things about how nice it was and how inclusive it felt. That’s something we would want to continue building on.

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is Embracing Equity. How do you feel about this in terms of your academic studies?

In the classroom we are equal, well, actually my programme is majority female, but I think there is still a way to go in Oxford and the world - the gender balance of those in leadership positions, for example, is not exactly 50/50.  Intersectionality is important when considering access to higher education, particularly postgraduate education and academia.

Some of my peers are in a more male-dominated environment on their courses, and in their departments, and have had experiences where they don’t feel they’ve been taken seriously, or have been spoken to condescendingly.

Tell us about female role models who inspired and encouraged you.  

At first, all my role models were mainstream, famous women in the public eye, but I have gradually changed my mindset and now see women close to me in my life as role models.

I grew up in Myanmar in a very matriarchal environment and I particularly owe a lot to my mum, aunts, and grandmother. They are the roots that I draw strength from.

I’ve also been very privileged to have had amazing mentors while working at Meta. I started off my career there, which can be very intimidating at such a big company. But, the more tenured and senior women I met just lifted me up and guided me through any problems or concerns I had. Witnessing how those strong and kind women operate has made me want to be one myself.

And last but certainly not least, my friends are the ones who keep me grounded. As I said, studying at Oxford can get very tough. And it is my friends who keep me grounded when I get too overwhelmed with work.

I also take inspiration from women professors from undergrad and even high school, who made it into the top, top places of academia. It was so hard for women, and they really paved the way for me and for so many like me. I think that's really been inspiring.

What do you hope for the future in terms of women's rights?

I think for me it would be recognising the diverse experiences of different women. Especially being at St Antony's, you see the different lives and backgrounds that people have, but we're all women, and recognising that everyone's experience is valid is important. Intersectionality to the next level would be fantastic to see, especially in mainstream feminism, which is pretty much dominated by Western feminism.

I hope that women who are in positions of privilege show solidarity instead of co-opting and appropriating experiences and the work of women of colour, especially black women, indigenous women, and other marginalised women in so many different parts of the world. I hope for more solidarity and more conversations. And I hope that people aren't scared of the word feminism, as if it's such a bad and scary word. So, yes, more education. That’s my hope.