Trailblazing Scientist Overcomes Gender Barriers

Doctor Raijeli Taga is a trailblazer in science and a dedicated advocate for community development. She hails from Beqa and spent her formative years navigating both urban life and traditional Fijian values in Suva.

“I was raised in Nabua. My dad was a welder and mum stayed at home to look after the four of us. I am the eldest and we all have our individual lives and families,” said Dr. Taga.

Driven by an innate curiosity and a natural inclination towards science, Dr. Taga excelled academically and graduated from Dudley High School. “After completing high school, I enrolled at USP where I did my undergraduate studies. I wanted to do something scientific but different from being a nurse, doctor, or medical person. So I joined the mineral resources department, with the lands ministry — that was the turning point in my career.”

Dr. Taga pursued significant milestones in academia and research, fueled by perseverance, determination, and passion for scientific exploration. “This is a predominantly male-dominated field. When I joined, there were only three women working as scientific officers; all the other women were in administration and accounts. My interest in mining drove me towards getting a higher qualification in that field. Fifteen years later, I went to do my master’s but, in between, I did other postgraduate courses. I did my master’s in non-clinical medicine, which is in environmental toxicology.”

She served 31 years with the department of mineral resources, eventually becoming its director—the first woman to hold the post. Dr. Taga acknowledges the hurdles she faced but embraced them as opportunities to pave the way for other women. “As I progressed in my career, I witnessed a significant shift within the department. The number of women in technical and leadership positions began to increase while the gender gap among staff started to narrow.”

This transformation was about creating an inclusive environment where women could thrive and contribute meaningfully. Dr. Taga paved the way to bridge gender disparity in the ministry. Balancing a demanding career with motherhood, she credits her supportive family, particularly her husband, with helping her succeed. “His encouragement extended not only to my career but also to our children, who are now pursuing advanced studies in science.”

In 2020, Dr. Taga was appointed the permanent secretary of the lands ministry. Her service was recognized with a medal of appreciation from President Ratu Wiliame Katonivere at the State House last week. “In today’s world, the conditions for women in the workforce have improved significantly, and there is greater recognition of women’s equality, empowerment, and respect. The barriers that once hindered women from pursuing careers in fields like mine are gradually diminishing.”

She advises, “If you aspire to be in a field that challenges traditional gender norms, go for it. The only thing that can truly hold you back is your own hesitation. Have the determination to advance and seek out support networks that will help you achieve your goals.”

Dr. Taga emphasizes the importance of forging connections with mentors and peers who can provide guidance and support. “Do not let your upbringing define your purpose. Just as it says in the Bible, whatever you go through, that’s what God has planned for you.”

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