The world needs science…and science needs women, with the five winners

The world needs science…and science needs women, with the five winners

Beyond the passion, it's the determination of the five women that communicates.

Strong regional differences between female researchers in science

Highlighting the work of female scientists is a mission that UNESCO set itself in 1998, through its program in partnership with L'Oréal. If we believe these numbers, this initiative is necessary to encourage the sector to diversify. As a reminder, in 2024, only one in three researchers is a woman.

Good news, the numbers have been increasing in recent years: if we believe the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, the percentage of female researchers in the world reached 31.7% in 2021 compared to 30% in the last report dating back to 2017.

Regarding the proportion of female researchers, there are strong regional differences. In Central Asia, the percentage is 49.6%, compared to 25.9% in South and West Asia. At the global level, this percentage is estimated at 31.17% of female researchers, a slight increase compared to 2011 (30.9%).

The world needs science, and science needs women

A crucial but fragile balance. This is precisely the entire goal of the UNESCO conference that was held on the afternoon of Wednesday, May 29, in the presence of the five laureates of the L'Oréal-UNESCO International Prize. For women and science 2024.

Professor and structural biologist Ning Yan, who was rewarded for her work in discovering the atomic structure of many membrane proteins, opened the presentation ball. “I have always been fascinated by this world that lived before our eyes, but we did not see it.“.

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While she was still a student at Princeton, she remembers surprising two of her professors who were working very late into the night in front of their microscopes. “I told myself that I could see myself doing the same thing all my life, devoting my whole life to science“.

The following four women are driven by the same fever, an almost consuming passion, for their sectors.

I was obsessed with workProfessor Nada Jabado is recognized as a North American laureate for having revolutionized the understanding of the genetic abnormalities responsible for aggressive brain tumors in children.

If knowledge is absent, everything will be abandoned

And with good reason – if there is one thing these five women have in common, it is the certainty that science is absolutely essential to understanding the world and improving the living conditions of living beings.

Thanks to her work in the field of metabolism, Alicia Kowaltowski, a professor of biochemistry in São Paulo and laureate of the Latin American and Caribbean Prize, has developed research dedicated to obesity, diabetes and even aging in the world. On the contrary, “This work could also help research into the condition of individuals with nutritional deficiencies“, explained Professor Genevieve Al-Mouzani, Research Director at the Center National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) at the Curie Institute and laureate of the award for Europe.

Genevieve Al-Mouzani knows better than anyone else how beneficial science is to society, especially in the health sector. His work in epigenetics (the study of gene mechanisms) provided a better understanding of how cellular identity is determined during normal development and is disrupted by cancer.

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We must continue to be open. When Marie Curie discovered radioactivity, many people were afraid of it, before they knew that it could help treat cancer“, explains the scientist.

The main role of education

The health sector is also one of the areas that the fifth and final winner, Rose Lake, who represents Africa and the Arab countries, knows well. The Professor was particularly anticipated this year, being the first winner from Cameroon since the inception of the L'Oréal-UNESCO International Prize. For women and science.

Immunologist Rose Lake received an award for her research aimed at “To improve outcomes of pregnancy-associated malaria, support polio eradication and improve immunization in Africa“According to the UNESCO press release.

In addition to being a powerful player in this battle between disease and the continent, Rose Leakey also seeks to improve the careers of young scientists. She easily attributes her success and determination to the education her parents gave her: “My parents always pushed me to go to school and persevere in science.“For her, parental education is the key to having enough determination and confidence for women to succeed in this field.

UNESCO action plan to bridge the gender gap in science

An encouraging environment, self-confidence, unwavering determination and never giving up: these are the weapons the female scientist must equip herself with in 2024 to ignore stereotypes according to the five laureates. Easier said than done. However, UNESCO is determined to help, on its scale as an international institution, thanks to a well-designed action plan.

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The goal of this action planBreaking the glass barriers that women face in reaching managerial positionsTo do this, three goals must be achieved.

  • Eliminate gender stereotypes and biases in science by increasing the presence of female scientists in the mediaBy incorporating various references to female scientists into textbooks, by funding awareness-raising activities that include female scientists, etc.
  • Opening scientific educational paths for girlsby mobilizing parents or legal guardians, rewarding excellent results, ensuring appropriate integration of science into teaching programmes, etc.
  • Creating work environments that attract, retain and advance female scientists By implementing equal pay, by favoring long-term contracts, by promoting balance between professional and private life, etc.

Science will soon be freed fromGender boundaries“However, this call to action that focuses on various educational vectors as well as on the professional field is not a dead end.

Addressing governments, universities as well as civil society among others, this structured plan calls on us to abandon our stereotypes and prejudices to offer science what it really needs: diversity.Voices and skills“.

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