Arab women scientists launch initiatives

Female scientists in Arab countries remain in a small minority. Copyright: Flickr/ShadoWalker Photography

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[DUBAI] Awards to recognise the contributions of Arab women scientists were announced last week (28–30 September) in Dubai.

They were launched, along with other initiatives, at the inaugural meeting of Arab Women in Science and Technology — organised by the Arab Science and Technology Foundation(ASTF) — which enabled female researchers from Morocco in the west to Syria in the east to meet, many for the first time.

Maitha Al Shamsi, minister of state for the United Arab Emirates (UAE), reported at the meeting a "steady increase" in the number of female postgraduate science students in her region. She said the UAE was "a model for other countries to follow".

But Abdalla Alnajjar, president of ASTF, said the organisation’s research suggested that the number of Arab women actively participating in science and technology had never surpassed 15 per cent.

"Empowering women through science is about giving them the opportunity to advance themselves and become successful," Sulayma Al Barwani, member of parliament and associate professor at Sultan Qaboos University, Oman, said in a statement before the conference.

Mona Hassoun, president of the Arab Academy E-Business in Syria, said that research from the University of Damascus suggested that cultural attitudes — particularly the role of women once they married — remained a significant block. She suggested that using the Internet to allow women to work from home would be a good initiative to break these barriers.

More focus should be put on research not just by women but for women, said Yemeni researcher Rokhsana Ismail, vice-president of the Arab region of the Third World Organisation of Women in Science (TWOWS).

The Egypt office of ASTF is setting up a system for virtual collaboration and contact among women working in science and technology around the Middle East. The ASTF website will also host a research database in Arabic to bring attention to the work of Arab female scientists, with support from Lamya Hayat, head of the biological sciences department at Kuwait University.

Many other initiatives are underway. Pharmacology professor Samira Islam from King Abdulaziz University in Saudia Arabia has offered bridging courses for women interested in pursuing research into pharmaceuticals, while UNESCO and the Middle East branch of the L’Oréal Foundation announced a fellowship for young women science students.