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The world needs Science and Science needs Women and Girls

Celebrating International Day of Women and Girls in Science – 11th February

By: Frank Arthur

February 11 was International Day of Women and Girls in Science, to celebrate and focus on ways to work towards gender equality in science. At all levels of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields around the world, a considerable gender imbalance has remained over time. Despite significant progress in boosting women’s participation in higher education, they are still underrepresented in these disciplines. In 2015, the United Nations General Assembly declared February 11 as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, in order to achieve gender equality, women’s empowerment and equal access to science and technology for women of all ages. According to the United Nations, recognising the role of women and girls in science is critical to achieve  the goals and targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development  and contributes towards economic development of the world.

A young woman analyzing substances in the lab.Image credits: https://www.istockphoto.com/nl/portfolio/shironosov?mediatype=photography

Over the past decades, many women and girls who have studied science have led ground breaking research in science and inspired young people to get into science.  The gender gap in science and technology however holds girls and women back from participating fully in science. The Women in Science data from UNESCO is quite obvious. It indicates that, about 30% of world researchers are women, with up to only 19% of researchers in south and west Asia, 23% in east Asia and the Pacific, 32% in sub-Saharan Africa, 32%t in North America and western Europe, and 45% in Latin America and the Caribbean. In disciplines such as artificial inteligence, only one in five professionals (22%) is a woman. Women scientists recieve lesser research grants than thier male counterparts and have fewer academic publications than males. 

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The gender gap in science:  (Women as a share of total researcher, credit: UNESCO)

The International day of Women and Girls is an opportunity to reflect on the role women play in science, and educate men on their role in promoting and mentoring women and girls to pursue their technical and scientific talents in schools and the workplace. This is the time to unleash women’s full potential in STEM disciplines and show how their contributions can make a difference in the world.

‘Don’t be afraid of hard work. Nothing worthwhile comes easily. Don’t let others discourage you or tell you that you can’t do it. In my day I was told women didn’t go into chemistry. I saw no reason why we couldn’t.’ 

Gertrude Elion (Biochemist, Pharmacologist, and winner of the 1988 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine)
A picture containing swimming, water sport, ocean floor

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Artificial intelligence concept. Image credits: https://www.istockphoto.com/nl/portfolio/chombosan?mediatype=photography

Why is it important to celebrate the International day of Women and Girls?

  • To thank women and girls for their contributions in science  –  It is an event to recognize, acknowledge, and celebrate the achievements of women who have gone before us and made major contributions around the world.
  • The moment to seize opportunities – The occasion to support women of all ages and stages of their careers in the STEM field. We can’t afford to lose any talent in the technology sector, therefore discovering and keeping women who are interested and talented in technology is critical for us all.
  • It’s time to educate the youth and especially the boys – Not only do girls need to become used to being in STEM programs, but young boys need to get used to having them there as well. Young boys and men should respect and acknowledge their female counterparts in science and seek out women in science as mentors and role models.

‘What I want to do is encourage women to take on this incredibly exciting and fun challenge to use their brains for the benefit of humanity but through science and technology. Don’t let the guys only have this. This is great, great career material. 

Frances Arnold (she won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2018, made this speech in 2018 at Women in Science)

The female Scientist Marie Skłodowska-Curie (1867 – 1934) who made history

As we celebrate women on the International Day of Women and Girls, we will commemorate one of the most familiar figures in science, Marie Skłodowska-Curie. For more than a century, she has captivated the public imagination and inspired generations of both male and female scientists. Her contributions to science have improved our planet. 

Marie Skłodowska-Curie is arguably the best-known female scientist. She was a Polish-born physicist who discovered the radioactive elements polonium and radium together with her husband, Pierre Curie. She was the first female Nobel Prize winner in science, and the first to receive the Nobel Prize twice (in physics in 1903 and chemistry in 1911). Her discoveries in radioactivity became fundamental to understanding the structure of the atomic nucleus. She also contributed greatly to finding applications for the ionizing radiation in chemistry, biology and medical science.

Marie Curie.
Marie Skłodowska-Curie. Photo credits: Wikimedia Commons

Final perspective 

Women and girls account for over half of the world’s population. Nearly half of all viewpoints, creativity, and innovation are represented by women. Diverse perspectives provide new and fascinating ideas to research, and women and girls should be praised for it.

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