Support for Women Scientists Grows As Agencies Seek Pathways for Development, Diplomacy

To stimulate international development, government agencies and non-governmental organizations are increasing their support of programs that promote women scientists, speakers said at a regional meeting of the International Network of Women Engineers and Scientists at AAAS headquarters.

The U.S. State Department, The World Bank, and other national and international agencies have increased their support for women scientists worldwide. Their goal: To improve the educational and career opportunities for women in their home countries in a way that encourages economic growth and innovation.

At the U.S. Department of State, “we are talking very plainly about the priority of women and science as an integral part of our diplomatic and development agenda,” said Sharon Hrynkow, senior advisor to the assistant secretary in the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (OES).

Sharon Hrynkow

AAAS Education and Human Resources and the AAAS International Office hosted the INWES meeting, which focused on workforce and economic development for women scientists and engineers. INWES represents women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) from more than 60 countries and is a non-governmental partner of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Representatives from 11 countries, including England, Poland, France, Japan, South Korea, Rwanda, and Egypt attended the conference on 26-27 August.

The conference was “part of a much larger global effort to improve women’s position in regard to STEM fields…as well as to improve women’s empowerment and development by way of STEM,” said Shirley Malcom, director of Education and Human Resources at AAAS.

During the conference, Yolanda George, the deputy director of Education and Human Resources, provided the 48 attendees with hands-on fundraising training. After sharing some of her secrets to successful fundraising for science, mathematics, and education initiatives, George sent participants to the AAAS computer laboratory with a list of funding organizations to explore online and to discuss in small groups.

The State Department views science as a tool to help meet policy objectives, Hrynkow said. Secretary Hillary Clinton and other senior leaders, including Kerri-Ann Jones, the OES assistant secretary, “speak regularly about the importance of science for diplomacy and development,” Hrynkow noted. Clinton also formed the Department’s Office of Global Women’s Issues, which has as part of its mandate to “increase women’s and girls’ access to education and healthcare,” said Hrynkow.

Shirley Malcom
Shirley Malcom

The World Bank, the largest multilateral development agency worldwide, also wants to further the synergistic relationship of science, development, and women’s issues.

“Any science, technology, and innovation (STI) capacity-building program the bank supports will have the opportunity to promote the needs of women,” said Joshua Mandell, an STI program officer at the bank. “We respond to the needs of our clients, many of which have expressed a demand for STI and other capacity-building programs to provide opportunities for women.” Those programs, he added, “can have strong impacts on economic growth.”

Joshua Mandell

Traditional economic theory and equations don’t always have room for science and technology, but they have proven to be crucial to the economic growth of the U.S., Europe, and parts of Asia, said Mandell. The key to development is providing countries “the capacity to do science and technology and engineering that is focused on solving local problems,” he said. “That is the foundation of what we are trying to do at the bank.”

To carry out their goals of jointly supporting women, science and development, the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development have a new set of public-private sector funding opportunities, said Hrynkow. One example is the TechWomen Program, an international mentoring opportunity for women working in technology. Beginning in 2011, women employees of U.S. technology companies will mentor visiting women scientists from Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, the West Bank, and Gaza for four to six weeks. The U.S. women will then travel to their protégés’ home countries to offer skill-development and networking workshops.

Other organizations devoted to bringing together women, science, and development are the Academy of Sciences for the Developing world, or TWAS (formerly the Third World Academy of Sciences); the Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World; and the Gender Advisory Board, which advises the U.N. Commission on Science and Technology for Development, Malcom said.

The 2011 annual meeting of the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women , which be held at United Nations headquarters in New York, will focus on access and participation of women and girls around the world to education, training, science, and technology. The conference is a “fantastic opportunity to promote the women in science agenda,” said Hrynkow.

The commission’s decision to focus on science is “a major breakthrough,” said Malcom. noting that “there has been more movement by the science community to consider gender issues than by the women’s movement to consider that science and technology has something to offer regarding women’s empowerment.”

An international program that promotes women scientists is the For Women in Science partnership, established in 1998 by UNESCO and the L’Oréal Corporate Foundation. Every year it awards $100,000 to one highly accomplished woman scientist from each of the following regions: Africa, Latin America, North America, Asia, and Europe.

The L’Oréal Foundation has a vested interest, because the company employs 3500 people at L’Oréal Research, over half of whom are women, said Jennifer Campbell, secretary general of the foundation.

Jennifer Campbell

“What we need from you is qualified nominations to identify the top women from your continent,” Campbell told the conference audience. She added that they are having a challenge getting enough qualified nominations from Africa and Latin America. In 2009, two of the 2008 L’Oreal laureates received the Nobel Prize; Elizabeth Blackburn, an American molecular biologist at the University of California, San Francisco, won for medicine, and Israeli biochemist Ada Yonath, of the Weizmann Institute of Science, won for chemistry.

Another program, L’Oréal-UNESCO for Women in Science International Fellowships, annually funds 15 young women studying in the life sciences. It has awarded 150 fellowships to women from 77 countries. The recipients do research projects abroad, then return to their home countries.

The L’Oréal-UNESCO partnership also gives fellowships to young women doctoral students from Sub-Saharan Africa and Arabic countries to continue studying in their countries. The program will soon expand to include Central American and Caribbean women, said Campbell.

In addition, the L’Oréal USA Fellowships for Women in Science Program, managed by AAAS, every year gives five U.S.-based women researchers up to $60,000 for their postdoctoral research. Similar National Fellowship programs exist in 45 countries so far.

Campbell said that one of the most popular features for the International Fellows is training week, in which AAAS participates. During the week, the fellows learn about getting research funding, leveraging their networks, protecting their work through patents, and communicating their research to a scientific and nonscientific audience.

The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) offers grants through its Participation and Advancement of Women in Academic Science and Engineering Careers (ADVANCE) program. Those grants encourage universities, professional societies, and other STEM-related organizations “to change the way the institution runs, to allow women to thrive and to become leaders,” said Jong-on Hahm, an NSF program manager in the Office of International Science and Engineering. The program also promotes international collaborations for women faculty, encouraging foreign researchers with parallel funding from their own agencies to collaborate with U.S. researchers.

Malcom said the State Department, World Bank, and others, including AAAS, “are trying to make the case that when people think about development, and the role of science and technology in development, they should think gender.”


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