UNESCO Women in Science Day

By Paige Panter

11th February saw the second International Day of Women and Girls in Science. The day was created in 2015 as part of the UNESCO 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to recognise the significant role of female scientists and encourage more women to pursue scientific careers. This may all seem a little old hat, but the reality is that women are still widely underrepresented in STEM careers.

Only 28.4% of the world’s researchers are women (UNESCO Science Report, Towards 2030). In engineering, technology and computer sciences they make up just 15% of UK graduates in 2016 (HESA January 2017).

“Humanity cannot afford to ignore half of its creative genius”

In her message to mark the occasion of Women in Science day, Director-general of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, wrote that “humanity cannot afford to ignore half of its creative genius”, which, considering the precipice that science is standing on after recent events, couldn’t be a more important message.

Durham University itself is usually a great ambassador for creating awareness of days such as these but decided not to celebrate this year. Instead, it makes a big hoo-har on ‘International Women’s Day’, 8th March. This is always a high profile occasion. Departmental and university-wide seminars will be taking place throughout the week in celebration of women and their achievements. Alongside this commitment, Durham also engages in encouraging young people into science, with the School’s Science Festival in March, Celebrate Science in October, and Science into Schools programmes running throughout the year. The University has also gained the Athena SWAN Bronze award as a whole. Achieving this recognises, in the University’s words, “good practice on recruiting, retaining, and promoting women in higher education.”

Though ideals about a woman’s role in life have changed rapidly in recent decades, there is still a stigma attached to the sacrifices a woman often has to make in order to have a successful career in science. As a university, we have an obligation to readdress this stigma and the gender inequality that is so apparent. In a time where it couldn’t be more important to recognise and encourage women in science, we can only hope that next year, the importance of this message will be much clearer. To quote Irina Bokova, “the world needs science, and science needs women.”

Photograph: Wikimedia Commons

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