Today we celebrate our 5th International Women and Girls in Science Day. A day that recognizes women from the past and present all over the world for their challenging power, enlightening intelligence and inspiration for future generations of women. This day also gives us the opportunity to reflect on the gender imbalance in science. Even though the global population is more or less gender-balanced, this is not fully reflected in today’s science and technology world.
We celebrate the achievements of women known and unknown, remembered and forgotten, who have forged the way for those of us in science today, and to give an opportunity for children: girls and boys, to choose role models in science.Princess Nisreen El-Hashemite, BSc MSc MD PhD
You might think: “Why do women need another special day a year? They already have an International Women’s day on the 8th of March”. Well, UNESCO and UN Women implemented this day in 2015 with the purpose to promote full and equal access to participation in science for women and girls. Latest UNESCO Institute for Statistics data showed that less than 30% of researchers worldwide are women and women make up only 10% of top-level scientists. Some studies even found that women in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) publish less, are less paid for their research and do not progress as far as men in their careers. Should we now bluntly assume that women are just not as smart and ambitious as men? Mmh, I don’t think so! Have you met us, women in science, already? We are fierce as hell and ready to smash every stereotype. So somehow the problem is more profound. It is a split combination of girls being steered towards stereotypical professions from an early age, gender bias, sexual harassment in the workplace to the potentially career-stalling effects of old-fashioned parenting roles. But also, the significant implicit bias women face in STEM fields should not be underestimated.
Why should we all care about gender equality in science? Well, I often like to say that this is a non-pink revolution. Because, when you take a look at the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, we come across all kinds of “science problems”, that seem to affect all of us. So, when one group of people (gender, age, culture, etc.) dominates certain fields of science, the view is narrowed to their perception of reality. Eventually the people who are doing science, are the ones choosing what problems we solve and how. To put it boldly: if you don’t have a menstrual cycle, we cannot expect you to know what period cramps feel like and how they disrupt women’s schedule and even their academic performance. Or why developing a seatbelt that protects pregnant women and their unborn fetuses should be higher on the list than treating male-pattern baldness.
A representative scientific workforce in a diverse and inclusive environment draws from the widest range of perspectives and experiences. Thus, a diverse pool of talented researchers brings fresh points of view, creativity and novel research questions. Women from the past and present have led innovation and ground-breaking research and are already role models for the next generations. Therefore, today is a reminder to everyone in science that women and girls are critical to human, economic, and scientific development, and their participation in science should be strengthened, encouraged, and celebrated.