NAYA | For Women in Science: L’Oréal and UNESCO honor women scientists in the Levant

The percentage of women working in science has increased by almost 12%.
by Fatima Al Mahmoud and Tala Ramadan

12 October 2018 | 12:13

Source: by Annahar

Poster of six awarded female scientists at entrance of ESA, Beirut. (Annahar Photo)

BEIRUT: The world needs science and science needs women was the consensus under which L’Oréal and UNESCO kicked off their 5th edition of the For Women in Science Levant Regional Ceremony.

Six promising young women from four different Arab countries were honored at Ecole Superieure des Affaires (ESA) in Beirut for their remarkable efforts toward the advancement of knowledge.

The ceremony was held under the patronage of the Minister of Education and Higher Education (MEHE) Marwan Hamadeh, and attended by more than 200 people, including politicians, diplomats, representatives of academic and scientific institutions, and NGOs.

In his opening remarks, Fadi Yarak, MEHE Director General and representative of Mr. Hamade, said that the growing number of participants in this program for the past several years is a clear indication of the importance of women’s role in science.

He expressed his gratitude and appreciation to L’Oréal-UNESCO for setting the stage for women pioneers in science, and congratulated the six scientists, adding “we are confident they will help solve the great challenges facing humanity and continue to inspire.”

Since 1998, the L’Oréal-UNESCO initiative For Women in Science program has aimed to ensure that scientific research is an outcome of the intelligence, creativity, and passion of women around the world.

According to Professor Henri Awit, President of the Lebanese National Commission of UNESCO, the UNESCO Science Report shows that gender disparity in the field of natural sciences is still very evident, explaining that “more equality and parity means more opportunities to achieve scientific excellence, which is UNESCO’s mission.”

In turn, Philippe Patsalides, Managing Director of L’Oréal Levant, commented on the program’s contribution “in helping women gain recognition within the scientific community,” emphasizing that empowering women scientists is not perceived as a challenge by “like-minded women and progressive organizations.”

On the criterion upon which the fellowships were established, Secretary General of the National Council for Scientific Research and Jury President Dr. Mouin Hamze said “each fellow has been recognized for excellence in her respective field of expertise, from physics to environmental engineering, to molecular biology.”

To date, the program has supported 3,124 women in total, rewarding 102 laureates and granting 3,022 doctoral and post-doctoral fellowships in 117 countries. Three of the fellowship’s laureates, Ada Yonath, Elizabeth H. Blackburn and Christiane Nusslei-Volhard have won Nobel Prizes in Science.

With the increasing number of initiatives that have been encouraging the inclusion of women in science over the past 20 years, the percentage of females working in science has increased by almost 12%; however, it remains relatively sparse with less than 30% of researchers being women, as mentioned in the brochures distributed by UNESCO.

The glass ceiling still exists according to numbers that indicate women hold only 11% of academic leadership positions and only 3% of Nobel Prizes for Science have been awarded to women.

Throughout the ceremony, the For Women in Science program hosted six exceptional scientists coming from Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon, and Jordan, who were selected by a jury to be honored and granted sufficient funding to proceed with their research.

In an attempt to counter the alarming rate of cancer spreading in Iraq, Aseel Mahmoud, Ph.D., Assistant Chief Physicist in the Laser and Optoelectronics Research Center, focused her research on developing a vital type of sensors, namely dosimeters, to be used in treating cancerous diseases, where radiation would be concentrated in the affected area only without affecting areas around it and ensuring the safety of workers in the field of radiotherapy. Due to limited resources and funding, Mahmoud’s project was first completed as a simulation.

“Upon applying to the L’Oréal-UNESCO program, I had my fingers crossed,” she told Annahar. “I’m very lucky that I now have the sufficient funds to invest in the simulation and develop it into a concrete reality.”

Meanwhile, and despite the ongoing conflict in Palestine, Faten Abu-Shoga, Ph.D., Assistant Professor at the Islamic University of Gaza and Vice Head of its Mathematics Department delved into the understudied field of complex geometry, making her the first woman in her country to do so.

“The fellowship with L’Oréal-Unesco has been a turning point for me,” said Abu-Shoga, “because I was able to find the support I’ve always been looking for, both financial and moral.”

From Jordan to Beirut, both Shada Alabed, Ph.D., and Hanan Khalil, Ph.D. had been selected by the jury members. Their research focused on medicinal chemistry and pharmaceutical science, and neuroscience and neurological rehabilitation respectively.

Two Lebanese researchers were also honored at the ceremony, Maya Attieh, Ph.D., for her work on water resources engineering, and Layla El Moussawi, Ph.D. candidate, for her research on cell and molecular biology.

“It’s about highlighting women’s strengths and highlighting how they too have the power to come up with innovative solutions,” Jessica Kahawaty, Australian-Lebanese lawyer and model, told Annahar.

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