Emerging scientist: Surendran Rajaratnam

As a global leader in fisheries and aquaculture research, science is at the forefront of our work, delivering robust evidence to policy makers, technological innovations to poor producers and consumers, and novel tools to transform fish agri-food systems. In this new series, we profile our emerging scientists, early career research talents who are already making a significant contribution to fisheries and aquaculture knowledge.

Surendran Rajaratnam is a Senior Research Analyst, based in Penang, Malaysia. Since joining WorldFish in 2013, his research has focused on gender norms, roles and relations within small-scale fisheries and aquaculture. He has a particular interest in studying men and masculinities using a mixed methods approach. In 2014, he won the Highly Commended Paper Award of the Gender in Aquaculture and Fisheries Section (GAF Section) of the Asian Fisheries Society. Last year, he was invited to be the editor of the GAF Section’s inaugural newsletter, which was launched at the 12th Asian Fisheries and Aquaculture Forum this month. He is currently pursuing his PhD at Universiti Sains Malaysia.

What are you working on at the moment for WorldFish? 

I’m working to integrate gender into technical aquaculture and small-scale fisheries work with the Government of Assam, India as part of the Assam Agribusiness and Rural Transformation Project.

What’s the most exciting thing about gender research?   

Learning about people and their environment as well as understanding why they do what they do and what they can do differently to improve their lives. It’s exciting that we can suggest evidence-based approaches that can reduce harmful practices and behaviors in countries where we work.

Senior Research Analyst Surendran Rajaratnam wins the Highly Commended Paper Award of the Gender in Aquaculture and Fisheries Section of the Asian Fisheries Society.

You’re in the process of completing your PhD. Can you tell us about that?

I conducted a study to explore the experiences of women refugees who sought asylum in Malaysia. Specifically, I focused on the healthcare issues these women face and their access to healthcare services in public hospitals in Malaysia. I hope to generate evidence on the common challenges that women refugees face, as their experiences and needs are different from men. 

You're on the Executive Committee of the GAF Section. Why is participating in groups like this important?

Groups like the GAF Section enable interaction and cooperation among diverse stakeholders—including scientists/academics, government and NGO representatives—which helps to advance research and practice. Some of the section’s key goals are to raise awareness about the importance of incorporating gender and to promote women in fisheries and aquaculture. By supporting the GAF Section, including by sponsoring its first standalone conference as we did in 2018 and helping to launch its inaugural newsletter this month, we can hopefully achieve greater equality between women and men in fisheries and aquaculture. 

What have you personally learned from your gender research?  

My research always challenges me to think and reflect on my own attitudes and behaviors as well as of those around me. It’s made me realize the biases and stereotypes that I had/have. That constant learning, reflecting and changing attitudes and behaviors is something that I will always value. 

Senior Research Analyst Surendran Rajaratnam (right) focuses on gender norms, roles and relations within small-scale fisheries and aquaculture.

What’s one thing you think will have a big impact on achieving gender equality?

To progress toward more gender-equal attitudes and practices, there needs to be greater buy-in from all stakeholders. It sounds obvious, but that includes men as well. ‘Gender’ is sometimes conflated with ‘women’. 

What piece of recent research are you most proud of and why?

I’m proud of all the research I’ve conducted with my WorldFish colleagues. But a standout piece was the comparative global study of 11 CGIAR research programs. It focused on how gender norms and agency shape women’s and men’s innovation in agriculture and natural resource management. Because of this research, we have the evidence to advance gender-transformative approaches and catalyze change in international agricultural and natural resource management research for development. 

What would your dream role be in gender research?

I always want to be a field researcher, so I don’t lose touch with ground realities.