Author’s Note: This article is part of a collaboration between my colleague Clare Liedstrand and I, both researchers working in immunopsychiatry at the Stress, Psychiatry, and Immunology (SPI) Lab at King’s College London and are also part of the editorial team that brings you Inspire the Mind.
International Day of Women & Girls in Science was announced by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015, in order to work towards achieving equality for women and girls in science. Clare Liedstrand has recently written a great blog for International Day of Women and Girls In Science that I would recommend that you read too, titled “My Journey and the Women Who Inspired It”, where she takes you through a historical timeline of world-renowned and incredible female scientists such as Rosalind Franklin, Hedy Lamarr, and many others who have made significant scientific contributions. Names that we still continue to remember and admire today. Like Clare, I too feel an immense privilege to pursue science in an era where women can not only become scientists but have the right to education.
But has the world changed much since the times of these incredible historical figures in science?
As Clare mentions in her blog, even in today’s contemporary society, women are still encountering struggles in science and in academia — and the story is no different for Muslim women.
A recent story that has come to light in the news is of the hijab/headscarf ban in India, where female students are being denied access to enter their schools unless they remove their hijab. Of course, this has brought significant distress and frustration amongst the female Muslim students, as the hijab is an important part of their Islamic faith. Similar situations have also been seen in western countries such as France, where the refusal by two students of the removal of their hijab has previously resulted in expulsion at a French school. As a Muslim woman in academia, I understand and empathise with the upset of these young Muslim women, and the concerns that they have about their education, especially when we live in a multi-faith society and advocate for women to become the educators for the future.
A recent article called “I am a young immigrant woman doing physics and on top of that I am Muslim: Identities, intersections, and negotiations” reveals astonishing figures that globally, around 30% of STEM Researchers (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) are women and that “women are 50–70% less likely to complete a master’s degree in STEM subjects than their male counterparts”. The article further explores the fundamental features of the under-representation of women in physics through the story of Amina — a physicist working in Western Europe. Amina shares a personal account of the challenges of “gender identity, negative stereotypes, cultural expectations” and much more, that she has experienced throughout her journey and also reveals her perseverance in to achieving excellence in academia amidst the struggles.
Another article by Professor Rana Dajani — a professor in Molecular Biology addresses the struggles women encounter when it comes to networking and mentorship due to concerns on support for children, and highlights that these are not only issues prevalent within the Middle East but globally. She further discusses the misconception of the hijab perceived by western countries as a symbol of oppression, whereas she describes them as “educated, affluent, and independent” and states that “this is not oppression”.
Three female researchers in STEM subjects — Dr Chioma Chikere, Dr Hannah Karuri and Dr Rabab El -Sherif — share their personal insight of the difficulties they have encountered as female researchers, one that many of us can relate to. The researchers discuss key topics such as the lack of female research leaders, coping and managing with work and family life, as well as insufficient support from universities. Furthermore, they highlight significant changes for the future that are critical in order to allow women to excel in science. “It is also really important to [have] a balance and diversity in editorial boards to give women their chance to prove their excellence in science and in helping to improve of the quality of scientific research”.
Whilst it is absolute and vital for International Day of Women and Girls in Science to recognise and celebrate the significant achievements women have made in science, we also need to address the challenges that women and girls in science and academia face today. For ALL women to have a seat at the table, we must break down and tackle the social injustice and discrimination that is transparent in our society today.
For more about international women in science day, be sure to check out Clare’s blog: My Journey and the Women Who Inspired It.