In order to achieve gender equality and empowerment of women and girls in science, and to achieve their full and equal access to and participation in science, the United Nations declared 11 February of each year the International Day of Women and Girls in Science.
On this day, UN Secretary-General António Guterres urged more commitment to end gender bias, greater investments in science, technology, engineering and math education for all women and girls as well as opportunities for their careers and longer-term professional advancement so that all can benefit from their ground-breaking future contributions.
Women scientists face a wide range of barriers ranging from family and social expectations to limited networking opportunities to lack of recognition for their work and targeted leadership programs. These challenges limit women’s opportunities in different fields especially in the field of science and technology.
Along with a number of donor agencies and partners, the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA) works to build the capacity of young women scientists in different countries. Empowering women is at the core of ICBA’s efforts. This idea guides different ICBA-managed programs like the Young Arab Women Scientists Leadership (Tamkeen) program, which is the first of its kind in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. The program is supported by the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and, when launched, will provide leadership opportunities, peer and mentor relationships, and contribute to the long-term goal of increasing women-led research into improved food security.
“We need to give priority to equipping women, namely women scientists, with necessary knowledge, skills and tools so that they can realize their full potential and contribute more to their countries’ economies,” said Dr. Ismahane Elouafi, Director General of ICBA, of the Tamkeen program.
Under Dr. Ismahane Elouafi’s leadership, the center also works to be more inclusive and diversify its research staff by including also more women researchers, representing different cultures and nations.
Her long-term commitment and contribution to promoting science and innovation, especially among Arab women, recently won her the prestigious Arab Women of the Year 2016 award.
On the occasion of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, some of women scientists at ICBA shared their views.
“Considerable steps have been taken to bridge the gender gap in science in recent years. However, staggering statistics show that more men still disproportionately dominate high-level positions. Strategic actions should be put forward to improve women’s access at all levels and in all disciplines with a special focus on countries with very strong gender stereotypes. Due to their multitasking role in the community, women value more teamwork in the workplace bringing their relationship building skills to lead their teams. Empowering women through targeted initiatives contributes to developing their professional and leadership skills pursuing a life-long career within science.”
Dr. Dionysia Angeliki Lyra, Halophyte Agronomist, Greece
“Women face many challenges while pursuing their scientific career like family commitments, which discourage them to continue their higher education studies and they are often underrepresented in the scientific community. As success is built on personal hard work and enabling environments, more efforts are required to support women’s involvement in science and technology. The Tamkeen program at ICBA is one of such initiatives that aim to support the young women in this regard.”
Dr. Henda Mahmoudi, Biotechnologist, Tunisia
“Women constitute half of the world population and workforce although their significance and input in the scientific community still remains very small. One of the main reasons is, at early age, most women are diverted to non-science professions due to cultural constraints. Empowering women to tackle challenges from gender bias and sexual harassment will tremendously improve their involvement and contribution in science and overall better livelihood of society.”
Dr. Aida Zewdu Kebede, Post-Doctoral Fellow, Ethiopia
“Women face lots of issues, especially in the developing countries. Although they are involved in the majority of the agricultural activities, they have no ownership and recognition compared to men. There are many opportunities for women in science and technology, but the problem is the majority of the women lack awareness and encouragement about these opportunities. We need to encourage them, right from school by having capacity development and skill development programs at village levels. We need to nurture them and make them aware about their capabilities, rights and opportunities, especially in the fields of science and technology, which has one of the lowest representation of women.”
Dr. Shagufta Gill, Research Associate, Pakistan
“The main role of a woman was for long decades to care, raise and educate the progeny; a role that gives her an integrated view of the relations between human beings, their activities and their environment and makes her sensitive to the life and the future of the generations and gives her a dynamic vision of the society. This inherent nature of a woman explains her sensitivity to the development of science and sustainability. It gives her the motivation and the capacity to actively contribute to the development of the society through the science and to innovate for this purpose. Women are thus a ‘’pool’’ of talent and innovation that represents a huge part of the human resources all over the world; However, and unfortunately, they are not well represented or involved in the sciences and research field due to their educational or social environment which tends to underestimate their abilities. It is therefore important to develop the education and awareness about the potential that women have in science and involve them more for a better development of the society.”
Dr. Amira Askri Shoaib, Post-Doctoral Fellow, Tunisia