International Day of Women and Girls in Science: What to expect in 2021?

  • 7 months   ago

It is almost a year since the World Health Organisation (WHO) identified COVID-19 as a global pandemic, and cautioned people to safeguard themselves and those around them. Women in science have been on the front lines in this global fight against the pandemic, helping people to break free from the clutches of the deadly virus, thereby saving millions of lives. 

Some of them are health care workers, while some are leading ground-breaking research into vaccines and others who have pioneered treatments. All these women and girls in science are leading the way by creating a safer place for us to live, further inspiring future generations of girls to take charge and contribute to science and technology. 

 

 

If we just examine the range of contributions that these women and girls in science have made, it is quite evident that science needs more such powerful leaders. 

While the world celebrates International Day of Women and Girls in Science on 11 February, to honor some of these women and girls around the world, who have marvelously and incredibly influenced and taken charge of the ongoing crisis, sadly, there is still a gender gap that is pulling back women. 

If sources are to be believed, less than 35% of women are researchers, though more than 55% of them are qualified and eligible to be researchers. When it comes to health and social care workers, more than 68% of them are women, but they are paid 11% less than their male counterparts.

The COVID-19 scenario has proved that if it were not for the women and girls in science, men alone could not have driven the recovery model this far, which echoes that science needs insightful women leaders. 

Still there exists differences of opinions when it comes to women’s role in science and it looks like this deadly pandemic is poised at widening the existing gender disparities. Women scientists, at the early stages of their careers, are more vulnerable to be the victims of this gender gap in dark times, as this. We must act swiftly to help women in STEM to achieve a strong and lasting foothold in their career pathways. 

We have reached a tipping point, where it is now important than ever to recognize women’s contributions in science, blowing off stereotypes and overthrowing the inequality against women and girls in science. 

As the world struggles with the COVID-19 pandemic and its variants being identified across the world, this international day for women and girls in science, let us pledge to encourage women leadership in STEM to contribute toward building a better tomorrow. 

Women and girls in science

Today, we are witnessing several girls choosing to study and explore Science. According to studies, in the past few years, the likelihood of a woman accomplishing her undergraduate degree was more when compared with the male counterparts. Sadly, this accomplishment ends here for most women as those of them enrolling and qualifying in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics are at half the rate of men. 

This alarming difference caught the attention of the United Nations (UN). In the year 2015, the UN proclaimed 11 February as International Day of Women and Girls in Science to honor their contributions, thereby inspiring future generations.  

The STEM field offers an array of employment opportunities, with a higher pay scale than what is offered in various other sectors. The demand for talent and expertise in the STEM field is increasing globally, and it is our responsibility to ensure that these deserving women and girls do not miss out on these opportunities.  

This day aims to increase and reprise awareness of the role women and girls play in science, promoting the idea of STEM careers to future generations, and educating men on their role in encouraging and guiding women and girls in schools and workplaces to chase their passions in science and technology. 

As the world struggles to survive the threats posed by the ongoing crisis, it is time, we recognized and honored women and girls in science for their potential, and encouraged them to change the world with their unrelenting contributions. 

Below we are highlighting some of the women and girls in science who have made tremendous contributions to help the world fight the deadly coronavirus.

1. Dr. Entela Kolovani

Though women are underrepresented in decision-making and leadership, they make up more than 68% of health care and social workers around the world. This gives us ample reasons why women should have exercise power in strategizing the COVID-19 response model. 

Dr Entela Kolovani, a physician at the hospital of infectious disease in Tirana, Albania, who was treating patients diagnose with COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, says that each patient is unique, so treating them is not an easy task. These patients are not only physically endangered, but the disease is bound to take a toll on their mental well-being as well. Separating and isolating patients from their families could harm them, so health care workers must care for them well by staying close to them.  

More than 75% of nurses in Mexico are women. A Mexican nurse, Brenda Abad, who was assigned to detect and monitor those infected with COVID-19 on her first working at a public hospital, shares her experience on how she was scared of catching the disease as it is contagious, but she did not let any such inhibitions hold her back from doing a great job. 

2. Özlem Türeci

Özlem Türeci is today the proud owner of the world’s first-approved RNA-based vaccine against COVID-19. This entrepreneur is also a physician and scientist. Özlem Türeci, the co-founder of the biotechnology company BioNTech, has proven her leadership in the global health sector by manufacturing the vaccine at a much-needed moment during the crisis. 

This influential entrepreneur has over 1,300 people working at BioNtech, and over half of them are women. She encourages researchers to focus on things they want to change and the problems they want to solve, which is possible by thinking in ways they have never imagined before and dreaming big. 

3. Katalin Karikó

Katalin Karikó made one of the early and significant discoveries that helped with the COVID-19 vaccine a possibility. Her research revolved around the therapeutic possibilities of mRNA. However, her concepts were pushed aside, citing it was too radical and financially risky to fund. She kept applying for grants, to meet with rejections. At one point, she was even demoted from her position. However, she kept pursuing options. 

Her efforts paid when she and her former colleague Drew Weissman successfully launched a method to utilize synthetic mRNA, capable of fighting the virus, which formed the basis of the COVID-19 vaccine. 

4. Anika Chebrolu

A 14-year-old Indo-American girl, one of the youngest women scientists to date, made a discovery, which had the potential to provide a therapy to fight the COVID-19 virus. She had started working on her science project in her bedroom, initially trying to find a cure for the influenza virus, when she was in her eighth grade. She was researching some of the world’s deadly pandemics, eventually being forced to live through one as COVID-19 became a global pandemic. 

With the help of her mentors, Anika shifted her focus to studying the COVID-19 virus. She discovered a lead molecule that selectively attached itself to the spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and had the potential to constrain the virus. 

In October last year, she was honored with the 3M Young Scientist Challenge. 

5. Megs Shah and Fairuz Ahmed

As the intensity of the pandemic developed, many were forced to stay at home as many countries imposed strict lockdowns, and so many women found themselves trapped in abusive and violent relationships, with no one to hear their cries for help. It is at this point that Megs Shah and Fairuz Ahmed launched a new technology, intending to help the needy to connect with the concerned authorities and report their tragedies of domestic violence. The technology helped the authorities to connect with these women virtually. 

Megs and Fairuz founded the Parasol Cooperative, which aims at educating and connecting survivors, and the service providers. They developed an innovative technology, shaped from their own experiences, and informed by their work with survivors, aimed at helping victims of domestic abuse. 

6. Ramida Juengpaisal

Thailand’s Ramida Juengpaisal aged 24 created a national COVID-19 tracker that would monitor and record all available information about the virus. Besides, it also helped to stop the spread of false information during the early stages of COVID-19. It offered information about outbreaks and cleaning procedures along with critical information about which clinics are authorized to conduct tests with their respective costs. 

According to her, until recently, the STEM fields remained shaped by gender disparities, excluding women and girls from displaying their potential by making any tremendous contributions. Though the bias remains, women and girls are breaking all barriers to come forward and contribute to the field of STEM, while inspiring others to follow the lead. 

How can the International Day of Women and girls in Science drive change?

1. Educating men to motivate and guide women

Boys must become comfortable having girls around them, while girls decide to opt for STEM programs. A global initiative called Y4X is in place for promoting gender equality in science, to help young boys and men to respect and recognize their female counterparts as well as to seek assistance from women in science as their mentors and role models. 

2. Honoring the contributions

International Day of Women and Girls in Science presents an occasion to honor and celebrate the successes of women who have broken all barriers, contributing significantly. 

3. Unlocking potential

Unlike before, it is essential that now more than ever, women and girls are motivated to grow and take charge within the STEM community. The STEM field has numerous opportunities and it needs highly talented people – so finding women who are passionate about science and technology experts is the need of the hour. 

This year as the UN and the world gear to celebrate and honor women scientists at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19, let us contribute our part in motivating and encouraging women and young girls to be a part of science and make the world proud with their contributions. 

 

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