Interview with gender & development expert Kate Ramil

1. Tell us about your career – what are you doing now, what is it like and what do you enjoy the most about it?

I’ve always been teaching undergraduate and/or doing development work. I love being able to discuss theories with my students on the one hand, and make use of it on the ground with community leaders on the other. It is like having best of both worlds and being holistic about the learning and the practice. Sometimes, I let them meet each other for a gender equality event or I bring my students to communities to discuss gender mainstreaming. Currently, I am doing gender and development (GAD) free-lance consulting. I also have a 4-year international gender research project with an NGO. 

Academe is my comfort and glam zone, where I love dressing up. In class, I am more or less the authority where I lead the discourse. When I move to development work, I dress in jeans and shirt. I expect my clothes to be dirty especially in far-flung areas. I have to make use of whatever is available in the area and I am very careful not to offend the locals by looking for something that is not available like toilet for instance. In the grassroots, I am not the authority. My expertise is good but I always have to remind myself that it is the locals who know the problem in their community and they also have the answer. I am only there to support or to make mechanisms work. I do not go to the community and say, “This is what we are going to do.” That is not proper. I have to ask first, “What do you need? And what do you hope to accomplish?” The community needs to own whatever project is given so that it will be sustainable.  

2. Among all the other European countries participating in the Erasmus Mundus programme, why did you choose the UK as one of your study destinations?

I have always wanted to study in the UK as far as I can remember. I have been fascinated by the rich culture and history: Queen Elizabeth, Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Bram Stoker, the Druids, King Arthur, Stonehenge, etc. are all part of my reading life.  So whenever I am asked why I chose the UK the aforementioned will be my first reason. The second reason is the high quality of education and English as the medium of instruction. I also like the quality of life and the openness to other cultures.  

3. What programme did you take and what drew you to this programme?

I took GEMMA or Master’s in Women’s and Gender Studies. At the time, I did not know about Erasmus Mundus. It just so happened that a friend of mine forwarded the call for application and it came at the right time because I had been working as volunteer for gender mainstreaming in San Pablo and teaching Gender and Literature at De La Salle University in Manila. I felt that GEMMA was calling me. The programme was perfect. I wanted to deepen my knowledge in the theories as well as women’s movements all over the world. I liked the fact that it was a full scholarship, it had mobility and very international with classmates coming from all over the world! What else could one ask for in a programme? Everything was there. 

4. You studied in Universidad de Granada in Spain and the University of Hull in the UK. How was your experience studying and living in both countries? How different—or similar—were they?

University of Hull and Universidad de Granada are very different. At the University of Hull, it is very organised from day 1 of orientation, getting IDs to classes, assessment of exams to getting the diploma. It is so easy to communicate because if you ask someone about something they can tell you what you have to know or refer you to the right department and people. Hull campus is quite small and so moving from one building to another is not a problem. Classes are twice a week and there is a lot of readings. When I was there, I would be staying in the library or the graduate school building until 5 in the morning to study for my exams or write my papers. My classes were varied: some classes we were only 6, others 15, and there was one with 100 students taking the same class with different professors every week.

I have always wanted to study in the UK. I remember my dad would always buy me National Geographic Magazines whenever he came home from his work abroad.

I cooked a lot in Hull. I always invited my classmates as well as the friends of my housemates. Practically every other Friday, I would cook for friends. I did groceries every two days and went to wet market, too. This was the first time I felt truly independent. I could experiment with food and I even managed to “convert” my Indian housemates to eating brioche, croissant and panettone. At first, they were reluctant to eat non-Indian bread. One time, I bought several types of bread and made them try. From then on they started eating other types of bread. They did not realized how good those breads were until I let them try. We even had cross buns during Easter. On my end, I experienced Diwali for the first time because of my housemates.  

I had a very active life in Hull physically because of the sports complex on campus and socially because I always threw house parties. I enjoyed cooking and hosting friends. I never felt alone in Hull. 

When I arrived in Granada, I was alone and did not know what to do. I was late for the free Spanish language course on campus because the Embassy of Spain was on autumn holidays and my visa was sent a month later. I was panicking because I thought I missed a lot already. It turned out that my classes (except the Spanish language) would start by November.  My first class was on research, in pure Spanish and for 6 hours a day everyday for one whole week. My next classes would be in January. Imagine I had one whole month free!  I never gotten my ID because the International Office lost my papers twice. 

I met a Filipino-British undergraduate student in Granada. I had been introduced to him through email by a common friend in London. Rafa originally came from the Philippines, moved to the UK with his mum, studied Spanish and Language Literature in London with 1 year mobility in Granada. We were of the same age but since he did not finish his undergraduate in the Philippines, he had to take it in the UK. If not for him, I think I would have suffered loneliness. I had classmates in Granada who were with me in Hull: Spanish and Mexican. All of my classmates spoke fluent Spanish and I was the only one who could speak basic. I think that part of why I felt alone was because of the language: my lack of fluency. Most of the time they would discuss in Spanish in and outside the classroom and I would be left out in the conversation.  I made more friends with Rafa’s friends and also the locals who are restaurant owners. In Hull I would cook, in Granada I would often eat out for breakfast, lunch and dinner; most of the time alone or with Rafa and his friends.  Being solitary in Granada made me feel how far I was from my family back in the Philippines. I did not feel it in Hull. For one, Granada was similar to my country but very different too. Sometimes, I would be lost in the system: how people work. Then I had to remind myself of the Granada “mantra” I learned: No te preocupes. No pasa nada. Nothing is happening. Don’t worry. When I understood what this mantra meant, I became calmer and more accepting to the “surprises” that came my way. 

Both Hull and Granada are charming in their own way. I love them just the same. They were a perfect combination: the former being organised and smooth all the way; the latter being wild and carefree.

5. What’s the number one lesson you learned as an international student that you still carry with you today?

As an international student, I learned that I represent my country and whatever I do it will give an impression of what Filipinos are like. That is very challenging because one the one hand, I want to be as free as I can be; and on the other, I don’t want to send a wrong signal or impression that may affect the future Filipino scholars.  

6. Was there anything else about studying in the UK that shaped your beliefs and opinions on gender issues?

Before going to the UK, I thought there was gender equality like how it is in the Nordic countries. I learned that there were cases of violence against women on campus, especially in the dormitories and several university students died because of their boyfriends. Also there were cases were women and girls were kidnapped by their own fathers to be sold for marriage in their fathers’ birth country. In fact, one of the first activities we did as GEMMA was a campus tour with placards and candles praying for those women who died on campus because of violence against them.  

I observed among Filipino migrant families that there was co-parenting and equal distribution of household chores and expenses. I believed that their perceived notion of gender equality in the UK had shaped them too and adapted this value. I believe that gender equality at home is one of the reasons why relationships are stronger among siblings, and between husband and wife or partners and why they are happier. 

What I liked about the UK is the endless advertisements on gender mainstreaming and anti-violence against women and children. From buses to tubes to commercials on t.v. everyone is reminded who to call and what to do in case there is a threat of violence. Clinics and hospitals have all the information on Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights. 

7. What’s your best memory in the UK?

My best memory: living, studying and travelling around UK for two years. Everything about it is so memorable that sometimes, I will wake up in my room (in the Philippines) smelling my room in Hull or in London. It is strange, I know. But olfactory is our most primitive sense, it is the one that carries a lot of memories. Smell triggers emotions, images, sounds, taste. I feel happy when I smell the UK in my room. 

My funniest memory though was when I met with my landlord in London. He wanted me to show several landmarks in the area and I agreed to join him for the tour. He was 70 years old, around 5’4, a bit chubby and walked very slow. On our way back to the flat, he pointed a funeral parlour. He said, “In case something happened to you choose this one. They have very good service. My two wives, may they rest in peace, were cared for there.” It was the first time I met him and he wanted me dead? My naughty side could not help it and I said, “I think you will go first.” Luckily, he did not hear it because he forgot his hearing aid, only his left ear was good.

8. What’s your number one tip to survive a development studies course?

I would say, immerse oneself to the communities involved. Talk to the people who come from developing countries. Know their struggles and victories. Read a lot about different theories and case studies, and if you don’t find anything that suit your situation or subject, try to find out what makes it different. 

9. Given that women and gender studies isn’t a popular choice among Filipinos, what advice would you give to those who wish to pursue such programme overseas?

Actually, there has been an increase of interest in women’s and gender studies for the past years. In fact, 3 Filipinos have been accepted to take GEMMA this year. However, it is still not as main stream as other courses. My advice would be to follow your path. Women’s and Gender Studies is a road less travelled especially after you finish the course. It is not something that can easily fit in the career norm. There will be a lot of explaining to do. But the more you go deeper to your path, the more you will discover the many reasons why you need to stay put and keep on doing what you do. If you want to be rich materially, find another course. If you want to live a meaningful life quietly while enriching your life and others, then this is for you. 

10. As a gender and development expert, what are your ambitions for the future?

I have so many more things to learn. Although I specialized in gender and development, I still cannot call myself an expert because I did not go through to a lot of struggles of women and girls from developing countries. In the future, I want to have my own gender and development training school that has different curricula for specific needs and will be present in a lot of developing countries. I also fancy a Filipino feminist school of thought with my friends like the French feminists, Black feminists, the New Mestiza and so on. 

In the near future, I would like to work with the world’s philanthropists who need ideas on where to spend their money so I could help them re-direct their projects to ensure development starts from the bottom, and that those who are truly in need get help and access to resources.