Women for Science

  • AuthorInterAcademy Council
  • TitleWomen for Science
  • Release Date1 June 2006
  • Copyright2006
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A cadre of women scientists and engineers
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Regardless of which entities create or operate a training programme, a reality they must respect is that women in rural communities learn most effectively from women scientists and engineers, especially in cultures where women do not interact with unrelated men. And if these professionals are themselves products of the local culture, they can more easily establish rapport and act as role models. Moreover, where local training programmes are based on knowledge centres, these women are effective intermediaries between the research institution(s) and the community. Thus a cadre of such women S&T professionals should be established.

Developing countries’ universities, often major sources of the national S&T talent pool, have to be more cognizant of this need. The participation of women in agricultural science in Africa, while not negligible, remains low, hovering around 15 percent at the Ph.D. level in Sub-Saharan Africa (20 percent in the Republic of South Africa).

 One way to attract more women graduate students is to give them access to leading education institutions, outside their countries, through exchange programmes such as those that mutually exist between African universities and those between African and Western universities. Exchange arrangements of this type are often quite successful. In a period of only five years, the Wageningen University and Research Centre in The Netherlands has granted over 200 master’s degrees and 50 doctorates to African scientists, many of whom now occupy senior governmental and university positions in their native countries (www.wageningenuniversiteit.nl/nl/).

In one pan-African programme, called ‘Sandwich Ph.D.,’ African students undertake thesis research at a host institution elsewhere in Africa or abroad, then return to complete their degree at the home university. The student and two supervisors (one from each institution) collaborate on fitting the capacity-building training to the home country’s needs so that she or he, when finished, is prepared to tackle national priorities. In particular, some of these well-trained experts—such as women graduates of the Sandwich Ph.D. programmes —can take on the urgent task of merging modern scientific methods and technologies from universities and research centres with the traditional knowledge of village women of their own culture.

Other programmes are useful for picking up where women’s graduate training leaves off. L’Oréal, the international cosmetics company, awards fellowships each year to 15 women—recent Ph.D.s from five continents — for post-doctoral work with foreign experts on research that benefits their native countries and that gives them a head start in launching their careers.

Critical to those careers however is avoidance of the woman researcher’s bane —isolation —that results in marginalization and lack of access to places where power resides. Women researchers need to be valued, encouraged, and included every step of the way, not least because of their crucial role as role models and technology-transfer agents in their country’s development.

Two priorities for achieving this goal are to recognize that gender issues are impeding progress and then to take appropriate action. The College of Rural Development at the China Agricultural University, for instance, has established a Women and Development project to ensure that gender issues are considered throughout the agricultural-education system (Gibb, 2001). Similarly, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), whose nearly 8,000 scientists, technicians, and managers bring their talents and expertise to 15 research institutes around the world, has established the Gender and Diversity Program to help its Future Harvest Centres attain staff diversity and, as a result, achieve excellence both in research and management (www.genderdiversity.cgiar.org).

Recommendations

  • The Advisory Panel asks academies to advocate for and support the tertiary education of women in science and engineering. These women may in turn train rural women, in their own cultures, through outreach mechanisms such as local knowledge-based centres that are linked to regional research institutes.
  • The Advisory Panel urges academies and their individual members to support, participate in, and establish collaborations between developed and developing countries that give women scientists, engineers, and science and technology students the opportunities to acquire contacts, build networks, and generally gain greater access to new learning opportunities.
Document Date: June 1, 2006
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