Expo 2020 Dubai: Thought leaders push for gender equality in space sector

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Supplied photo
Emirati astronauts Nora Al Matrooshi and Mohammed Al Mulla form the second batch of the UAE Astronaut Programme who are undergoing training. File photo
Emirati astronauts Nora Al Matrooshi and Mohammed Al Mulla form the second batch of the UAE Astronaut Programme who are undergoing training. File photo

Dubai - Panelists highlight issues faced women when entering space-related careers during discussion at Women’s Pavilion.


Nandini Sircar

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Published: Sat 23 Oct 2021, 4:04 PM

Last updated: Sat 23 Oct 2021, 4:11 PM

Breaking the glass ceiling in space and pushing for a more gender equal future in the space sector is imperative.

These were the views reiterated by thought leaders at the Women’s Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai.

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The goal was to generate greater awareness to the issue of gender diversity and identify the obstacles that women are facing when entering space-related careers while deliberating on ending disparities.

Experts opined galvanizing the youth with symbols of women in science and motivating the next generation to overcome challenges specific to the sector, is crucial to encouraging a female presence in the sciences.

While amplifying the positive contributions in space exploration, Dr Randa Assad, Associate Professor of Physics at the American University of Sharjah in the UAE said, “We also have to focus on the challenges that we face. For the youth especially, being a scientist in astronomy, it’s not necessarily an easy path. There might be difficulties and there might be challenges. But this is normal, it’s part of the journey… we should not give up, but keep up hope and aim for what we can add to this knowledge.”

Experts pointed out that The United Nations also wants to show how women from varied backgrounds and regions, face different issues and challenges within the industry.

Simonetta Di Pippo, Director of the United Nations Office of Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) and former astronaut said, “Bias is a social and a cultural bias.  It’s prevalent in general in society. The only solution to me being a woman is that when you have the responsibility to build a team is to put together the best team possible. Think beyond stereotypes and select the best talent from what you have. This is not necessarily what is happening. There is a recurring thought about the geopolitics description of what could happen if countries don’t follow the idea of selecting the best talents. There are countries like the UAE, trying to attract the best minds, trying to draw the connected minds and the best brains to leverage on their knowledge. So let’s say no to discrimination, no difference, diversity is an asset. The more you bring everyone together the more you can succeed.

Panelists concurred that gender disparity is a long-standing issue in education and careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields.

Research reveals that women are still visibly under represented as researchers in STEM fields in all regions, averaging just 28.8 percent, world-wide.

Astronaut-turned minister, Marco Pontes, who is the Brazilian Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, said, “Space programmes open a lot of possibilities for many different careers and we are looking forward to different talents to work with us. How can we bring more girls to choose Science disciplines especially mathematics, physics, astrophysics. We have to increase the number of takers, especially the ones in different engineering fields. It’s about 12 per cent. So it’s too low in our country. So, we started using some of the major female Brazilian scientists to talk to female students. We did observe some encouraging results there. Now we have a team that comprises girls competing in fields like robotics, astrophysics and they produce wonderful results.”

Dr Heida Chackroun, Associate Professor in Hydraulic Engineering and Geomatics at Tunisia’s University of Tunis El Manar, cited Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5, which concerns gender equality and empowerment for women and girls – one of 17 SDGs that seeks to create a more dignified, just world by 2030.

Dr Chackroun highlighted, “Maybe there is a chance now [through an agreement with the Russian space agency and Tunisia], to train and send a female astronaut to the International Space Station. So, these symbols are very important for young people – to show symbols and to say, ‘Yes, I can. I too can be an astronaut’.”

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