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The tenth anniversary of the L'ORÉAL-UNESCO awards was marked with the signing of a special charter by nearly forty past award laureates.

The Charter of Commitment ‘For Women in Science’ was signed in Paris, France earlier this month (March).

"The Charter is there to help other women, to help progress science and to encourage women scientists to act as role models. It is a further step in commitment towards women and equal opportunities in science," says Ana Belén Elgoyhen, the 2008 Laureate for Latin America and an independent investigator at the Institute for Genetic Engineering and Molecular Biology in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

L'ORÉAL-UNESCO's Awards For Women in Science are the first international awards devoted to women scientists. Each year, one woman from each of the five continents is recognised for their achievement in research — in life sciences and materials sciences in alternate years — with an award of US$100,000.

This year's winners were awarded for their research in life sciences and were selected by an international panel chaired by Gunter Blobel, 1999 Nobel Laureate for medicine.

Elgoyhen, recognised for her contribution to the understanding of the molecular basis of hearing, told SciDev.Net she was proud to be a part of the initiative.

"This award is one of the most important awards that a woman can receive in science."

Elgoyhen highlighted some of the problems that scientists in Argentina face, including low salaries, difficulties in obtaining and maintaining grants, and being away from the "frontline" of scientific research in the United States and parts of Europe.

"The awards are important because they recognise the effort of our work," Elgoyhen told SciDev.Net.

"As a scientist in Argentina, you often don't feel support — from society or from the government. And then, suddenly, the world is recognising your work. It gives value to what you are doing and enables you to be an ambassador for other women in your country."

The For Women in Science initiative has been strengthened by the addition of an International Fellowship program. Since 2000, the scheme has awarded 120 fellowships enabling doctorate or post-doctorate researchers to continue their work abroad. A similar fellowship scheme has also been set-up for women carrying out research in their home countries.

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