April 18, 2024, Thursday
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Women and girls in science

Full and equal access and participation for women and girls in science

The Nepal Weekly
February 15, 2022

Science and gender equality are both vital for the achievement of the internationally agreed development goals, including the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Over the past decades, the global community has made a lot of effort in inspiring and engaging women and girls in science. Yet women and girls continue to be excluded from participating fully in science.

In order to achieve full and equal access to and participation in science for women and girls, and further achieve gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, the United Nations General Assembly declared 11 February as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science in 2015. Recognising the role of women and girls in science, not only as beneficiaries, but also as agents of change, including in view of accelerating progress towards the achievement of SDG 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation), the 7th International Day of Women and Girls in Science Assembly will focus on the following topic: “Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion: Water Unites Us”.

A significant gender gap has persisted throughout the years at all levels of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines all over the world. Even though women have made tremendous progress towards increasing their participation in higher education, they are still under-represented in these fields.

Gender equality has always been a core issue for the United Nations. Gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls will make a crucial contribution not only to economic development of the world, but to progress across all the goals and targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, as well.

On 14 March 2011, the Commission on the Status of Women adopted a report at its fifty-fifth session, with agreed conclusions on access and participation of women and girls in education, training and science and technology, and for the promotion of women’s equal access to full employment and decent work. On 20 December 2013, the General Assembly adopted a resolution on science, technology and innovation for development, in which it recognized that full and equal access to and participation in science, technology and innovation for women and girls of all ages is imperative for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.

Taking on the greatest challenges currently facing the global community will mean harnessing all talent. As the world continues to grapple with COVID-19 and the critically important climate crisis, the full and equal participation and leadership of women and girls in the science and technology communities is more important than ever. Now is the time to recognize women’s contributions in research and innovation, smash stereotypes and defeat discrimination against women and girls in science. Globally, only 33 per cent of researchers are women, and they are awarded less research funding than men, and are less likely to be promoted. In the private sector too, women are less present in company leadership and in technical roles in tech industries. Women account for just 22 per cent of professionals working in artificial intelligence and 28 per cent of engineering graduates.  These glaring under representations limit our ability to find inclusive, sustainable solutions to modern problems and build a better society for all.

Last year, at the Generation Equality Forum, the Action Coalition on Technology and Innovation was launched, bringing together governments, private sector companies, the UN system and civil society in order to make concrete commitments to women and girls in STEM. By 2026, the Action Coalition aims to double the proportion of women working in technology and innovation, and ensure that women and girls participate fully in finding solutions to the largest and most complex problems of our lives.

The Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World (OWSD) is an international organization founded in 1987 and based at the offices of The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS), in Trieste, Italy. It is a programme unit of UNESCO. OWSD is the first international forum to unite eminent women scientists from the developing and developed worlds with the objective of strengthening their role in the development process and promoting their representation in scientific and technological leadership.

OWSD provides research training, career development and networking opportunities for women scientists throughout the developing world at different stages in their careers. OWSD Nepal chapter is an active institution lead by Dr. Hemu Kafle.

Women Scientists Forum Nepal (WSFN) is similar forum organised under Nepal Academy of Science and Technology (NAST). This was established in 2020 in, under the patronship of the Vice Chancellor of the Academy. WFSN was officially launched on February 11, 2020. The forum is being established with the aim to work in close collaboration with other Women Scientists Associations existing in Nepal, create networking with women scientists in the country and together, contribute in the country’s notion of making “Prosperous Nepal and Happy Nepali”.

NAST had published who is who, the database of scientists of Nepal. The available information illustrates that so far 143 Nepali women scientists have received PhD. Among them, the first PhD recipient Dr. Keshari Laxmi Manandhar in 1969, according to the database of NAST published in 2020.  

Big portion of the women scientists are engaged in academic sector i.e. 39.16%. The second big portion is working in the health sector i.e. 18.88%. Similarly working abroad are 15.38%, 12.59 at private sector, 8.39 at NAST and 5.59% in the government sector. Province Bagmati holds the largest share of women scientists in the country. Their province wise is 1.6 % in Province One, 2.4% in Madhesh Province, 93.3% in Bagmati Province, 1.6% in Gandaki Province, 0.82% in Lumbini Province, 0.82% in Karnali Province and almost none in Sudur Pashchim Province.

Moreover, Dr. Shobha Paudel, Dr. Hemu Kafle, Dr. Tista Prasai Joshi, Dr. Prativa Pandey and Dr. Jyoti Bhandari are five women scientists. These women scientists from Nepali were internationally recognised with the ‘Early Career Fellowship’ award worth $50,000 by UNESCO’s OWSD in between 2018 – 2020. They have been contributing in the studies and research on agricultural activities escaping climate change effects, drought forecast and management, water purification technology for the Kathmandu Valley, and Ayurvedic medicines respectively.

Active leaders of the women scientists of Nepal representing the community opine that there are some key factors that can help create better environment for women scientists to engage and contribute more. The important factors they mention are (1) encourage female in practical based S&T education from the school level. (2) Aware about their role: as a potential leader in the society, as to incline to them towards the economic development of the country through S&T education, to make their life independent i.e. alleviation of male dependency on the society as a whole, to change the radical thinking of male dominance.

On the same occasion, the global women’s breakfast announced by International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) to celebrate by all women chemist throughout the world. This day all women chemists extend their local and international networks with each other to discuss on their own issues. As previous year, this year all Nepal Polymer Institute gathered women chemist in Kathmandu to celebrate this global breakfast event. The event entitled ‘Empowering women in chemistry: a global networking event’ was organized in Kathmandu on Feb 12, 2021 where around women chemist of Nepal had participated in the event. Chemist from young undergrads to retired government officers and university professors had enthusiastic participation in the event.

The organisation is conducting a ‘global women breakfast of chemist’ at Durbar High School, Kathmandu this week with objective to motivate young girls in science education. The school is one of the oldest in Kathmandu.