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Southeast Women Working in Archaeological Collections

The SPAFA SESH started with the Centre expressing its commitment to promoting diversity and inclusion in global efforts to achieve the sustainable development goals, by hosting this activity the same month as International Women’s Day in 2021.

For this activity, SEAMEO SPAFA invited four Southeast Asian women who work in archaeological collections, two of whom serve museums in their countries of origin, and 2 of whom are working internationally, in order to provide a diversified view of the working landscape in this field and reflecting the present realities of global mobility in studies and work.

The speakers then gave presentations on the archaeological collections under their care, with Annissa and Suppawan mentioning the roles of pioneering women in the field of archaeology in Indonesia, the UAE and Thailand. In Thailand, it was pointed out that while women constituted a majority of the archaeology and museum workforce, their faces were invisible from the national narrative, with the founding “fathers” of archaeology and public figures being exclusively male. Annissa shared the academic and professional journeys of Ibu Satyawati Suleiman, the pioneer of Indonesian archaeology who served as SEAMEO SPAFA’s Governing Board member in the past, and Beatrice de Cardi, the First Lady of Arabian Heritage.

What all of the speakers emphasized in their presentations were:

  • The global connections between their collections, across the Indian and Pacific Oceans, through trade and migration,
  • Museums being generally underfunded, thus leading to a huge reliance on human resources
  • Museum work is a real profession requiring hard work and dedication, in contrast with the public perception of it being a hobby to pursue in one’s free time

The speakers then shared their academic and professional journeys. Most of the speakers did their undergraduate degrees at top tier universities in the home countries, and then pursued their postgraduate studies in either the US or the UK through funded scholarship opportunities, with the exception of Charmaine who started her undergraduate studies in the US from the very beginning.

When asked about the gender landscape in their areas of work, the speakers emphasized the genderization of professions based on outdoor (archaeology/excavation) and indoor (museum) work, with public perception being that one is more physically demanding and the other is more easygoing. They also discussed gaps in wages, and women having to work a lot harder to access the same professional opportunities as men in their field.

When asked about what could be done to improve diversity and inclusion in the workplace, the speakers emphasized the importance of locality, and not trying to apply a one-size-fits-all Western approach to these matters, as what diversity means in this place may have a different meaning in the other, and that there are complicated layers to consider.

When asked to share key messages to aspiring workers in the field, they shared the following:

  • Be yourself. Even what could seem to be a weakness could one day be your strength.
  • Seek support from your colleagues and find strength together.
  • Opportunities can be scarce (internships are unpaid and vacancies few and far between, with lots of competition), so be prepared to have to struggle
  • Prepare another skill to enrich your profile, i.e. spreadsheet, project management, video editing, etc.

When asked to share key messages with hiring institutions, they shared the following:

  • Consider sending your female staff to train in their twenties, early thirties, because once they start a family, they have little time outside of work to dedicate to external training.
  • Consider giving paid internships to give opportunities to disadvantaged communities.

For more information on the institutions where are speakers work, please visit:

National Museum Bangkok

National Museum of Ras Al Khaimah

Da Nang Museum of Cham Sculpture

Bishop Museum

If you watched the SPAFA SESH “Southeast Women Working in Archaeological Collections”, please complete the questionnaire (approximately 5 minutes) to help us improve future SPAFA SESHes: http://bit.ly/Evaluation-SPAFASESH10-SEAsian-Women-Archaeological-Collections

Southeast Asian Women Working in Archaeological Collections

Date: 24 March 2021

Time: 1:30 PM (BKK time)

Online Platform: Facebook Live https://www.facebook.com/seameo.spafa/ and on *Zoom *(Please register at: https://bit.ly/SPAFA-SESH10-Registration-Women-Arch-Collections)

This SPAFA SESH will be held in the same month as International Women’s Day to celebrate the work of young women in what has traditionally been a male-dominated field in Southeast Asia. Designed to be a candid discussion between young Southeast Asian women working with archaeological collections in the region and abroad, listen to Suppawan Nongnut (National Museum Bangkok, Thailand), Duyen Nguyen (Da Nang Museum of Cham Sculpture, Vietnam),  Annissa Gultom (National Museum of Ras Al Khaimah, United Arab Emirates) and Charmaine Wong (Bishop Museum, Hawaiʻi, USA) share their experiences over the course of their studies and career, and their thoughts and advice with those interested in their journey and future aspirations. Mark your calendars and join us LIVE on SPAFA’s Facebook or Zoom, next Wednesday on 24 March 2021 at 1.30 pm (Bangkok time).

Moderator: Linh Anh Moreau (Programme Officer, SEAMEO SPAFA)

[Discussion will be conducted in English]

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