Women in Science Day: female scientific role models are missing

A third of researchers in the world are women and progress has stalled for ten years. Certain disciplines are still shunned by young girls, such as mathematics, physics or engineering sciences. And the obstacles are scattered throughout the courses.

A laboratory worker analyzes samples, in South Africa, in 2019. There are far fewer women working or studying in the field of science in general. Getty Images - Morsa Images

By: RFI Follow


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We know that female and male brains are equally predisposed to scientific disciplines, we also know that governments are investing more and more in gender equality programs. How then can we explain that girls remain a minority in these disciplines? Because of firmly anchored stereotypes, according to Ana Persic, responsible for science policies at UNESCO. In other words, becoming a scientist is not obvious when you are a schoolgirl. And without a model, this is unlikely to change: 

We have incredible women scientists, but they are rare in textbooks, in the media. We did an experiment recently in a school. The students were asked to draw a scientist


a scientist,

 in English, who does not distinguish between male and female, Editor's note].

Most of the children drew a man. These are the things we need to work on.


A recommendation hammered out for years, but progress is too slow, considers UNESCO and always full of paradoxes. Because where the gap between genders is reduced, in the Caribbean for example, or in Central Asia: it is the glass ceiling that many graduates then come up against, prevented from becoming models in their turn.

Between career and child, you (no longer) have to choose

UNESCO is therefore launching a new call: it is urgent to close the gender gap in scientific careers. Today, only 30% of researchers are women, and at the highest hierarchical levels, there are only 12%.

Sunshine De Caires, 38, is a doctoral student in environmental science in Trinidad and Tobago, where she grew up. The country is one of the few where girls are as numerous as boys, or even in the majority, to study science. But gender-related obstacles arise later, when the question of starting a family arises. To avoid choosing between career and child, she shared her recommendations:

We often talk about gender equality, but we forget to take into account the differences between genders. We are not like men. To succeed in university research, we must take into account our specific needs. I am thinking in particular of childcare. There must be daycare centers on campus so that women can come with their children. There need to be schools nearby too, so they can drop them off and get to work quickly. And we must make schedules more flexible and offer teleworking as soon as possible, to reconcile family life and professional tasks.


In Madagascar

, bringing science back to young girls

On the Big Island, a third of researchers are women, reflecting the world average. There are still many obstacles. In Antananarivo, the STEM4Good association is trying to reverse this trend. 

With our correspondent in Antananarivo,

Pauline Le Troquier

This morning, around fifteen women are familiarizing themselves in English with a series of technical terms used in scientific jargon. At the same time, a coding and robotics workshop dedicated to young girls is being prepared. Here, there are no lectures or complicated formulas, rejoices Santatrarinoro, head of public relations for the association:

We encourage women to look at science in a different way. Knowing their bodies is already science. The applicability of science also means knowing how to place a light bulb. It is the way of learning that needs to change. We learn to apply, not to obtain diplomas.

[In Madagascar]

, seeing a boy in a literary series is frowned upon. But seeing a girl in a science series is a bit like “oh well she’s bold”.


Mahenina, 14, knows this speech only too well. His results in scientific matters are brilliant. The young girl in 3rd grade plans to study medicine. But she recognizes it, her profile is surprising and exceptional in Madagascar: 

I am the only one in my class who likes mathematics. Teachers say girls are lazy in science subjects. Afterwards, they are afraid to participate. I think we should introduce little girls to science from a very young age. When I was little, I was not offered small cars even though that is already an introduction to the science of seeing how it works, how it unfolds.



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