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Women to play greater role in knowledge-based economy

The contribution of women to science is vital as nations work to build a more sustainable, equitable, and inclusive world, experts say


Rohma Sadaqat

Published: Sat 19 Feb 2022, 6:24 PM

Women need to play a greater role as the world shifts to a knowledge-based economy, and have their achievements in STEM highlighted to inspire the next generation of young female leaders, experts said.

Speaking on the sidelines of the recent Women in Science Young Talents Awards at Expo 2020 Dubai, which recognised the achievements of 14 Arab female scientists from the Mena region, experts highlighted the need for more women pursuing careers in STEM fields. Since its inception in the region in 2010, the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Young Talents programme has awarded more than 160 female scientists and 11 laureates from the Mena region.

Sarah bint Yousef Al Amiri, UAE Minister of State for Advanced Technology, noted that L’Oréal and UNESCO have been great advocates for the contributions women are making to the STEM sector. “By recognising and rewarding the vital role female scientists play in advancing knowledge in so many fields, they are not only inspiring new generations of young women to pursue careers in science and research but fostering a more inclusive, more representative scientific community.”

She added that the 14 scientists being honored at this year’s event are a reflection of both the breadth of talent in the Middle East and the increasing opportunities for women here to apply it. “As we move to a knowledge-based economy, a world where science and technology are increasingly front and center, it is essential the whole of humanity is able to play a role in shaping it.”

According to the UNESCO Science Report published in June 2021, although the number of women in scientific careers is increasing, reaching just over 33 per cent of researchers worldwide, this evolution is still too slow.

Halima Alnaqbi, one of the scientists from the UAE who was honoured at the awards, agrees with the statement, and pointed out that more than half of graduates from Arab league scientific and engineering institutions are female – a figure significantly higher than in other countries, demonstrating Arab women’s passion for science.

“However, we continue to see a shortage of female graduates entering the workforce,” said Alnaqbi, who was recognised for her research on enhancing the existing organ transplantation system to include Arab ethnic groups.

“This issue could be due to a lack of adequate mentorship following graduation and a general lack of examples of inspirational female scientists,” she observed. “That is why, it is important to celebrate women in STEM and highlight the achievements of exceptional female role models to encourage more females to pursue careers in STEM.”

Alnaqbi also noted that while much progress has been made in eradicating poverty, true sustainable development requires gender equality. Women and girls make up half of the world’s population and they are increasingly seen as more vulnerable to the effects of climate change than men, because they lack access to information, technology, and decision-making, and have heavier workloads.

“It is also important to address girls’ education, as 129 million girls worldwide are currently out of school,” she revealed. “Inequality is reduced when girls are educated. It helps build more stable, resilient societies where everyone, including boys and men, can reach their full potential. For example, women have had an outsized role in caring for the nation’s health during the pandemic. Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, nurses have been on the front lines, the vast majority being female nurses who work in hospitals.”

“Gender and specialisation diversity in any team is particularly important since it encourages innovation,” she added. “Diversity fosters more creativity and a broader comprehension of the subject matter. Therefore, women bring unique views to research and scientific discussions, which enhances creativity and encourages the search for new information which ultimately leads to better decision-making and greater success.”

Dr. Ghada Dushaq, another UAE scientist who was honoured at the event for her research on discovering novel materials and structures across photonics to enhance the speed, capacity, and accuracy of conventional technologies, also shared her thoughts on achieving gender equality.

“Innovative and groundbreaking scientific ideas require the talents of both women and men,” she said. “Achieving gender equality in science will create balanced, holistic approach to leadership and better educated children in future generations.”

Thanks to the support of the UAE leadership and the UAE government’s efforts in empowering women with knowledge and education, she said that the nation will continue to play an integral role in the development of young talent, and driving the prosperity forward to the next 50 years.

“The current statistics hold great promise for woman in UAE to play a key role in the domains of education, health, labor market, and investments,” she said. “I believe that a diverse workforce is an innovative workforce; men and women have different experiences and backgrounds, and thus incorporating people who think differently can promote groundbreaking ideas that push organizations forward. Additionally, several studies showed that soft skills and emotional intelligence may prove a key competitive advantage for women in business. Furthermore, women signify vast economic power and offer important consumer insight.”


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