IT’S INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S Day, a time to celebrate the achievements of women around the world and throughout history. But the day is also about recognizing the hardships women face and the continued urgency of the fight for gender equality.
Over the past decades, the global community has made a lot of effort in inspiring and engaging women and girls in science. Yet women and girls continue to be excluded from participating fully in science. In order to achieve full and equal access to and participation in science for women and girls, and further achieve gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, the United Nations General Assembly declared 11 February as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science in 2015.
Women in science according to historical context
Researchers can only speculate about the relative roles of men and women thousands of years ago, as they made shelters and clothing, tamed fire, and domesticated animals and plants. Prior to the great civilizations of early Greece and Rome, women are known to have practiced medicine in ancient Egypt. Merit Ptah, who lived sometime around 2700–2500 BCE, is described on her tomb as “the chief physician.”
In ancient Greece, which came into existence sometime around the 8th century BCE, pondering the nature of reality and of health and disease became primarily male endeavors. But by the time that the Roman Empire reached its dying days in the 4th century CE, a woman, Hypatia of Alexandria, had emerged as a symbol of learning and science. Hypatia, who lived from 370 to 415 CE, was a mathematician who rose to be head of her city’s Neoplatonist school of philosophy.
In the 12th century, the abbess Hildegard of Bingen wrote books on the natural world and on the causes and cures of illness. Many other women worldwide were also practicing medicine and herbalism in their homes and communities at this time.
Women scientists are leading ground-breaking research across the world. But despite their remarkable discoveries, women still represent just 33,3 % of researchers globally, and their work rarely gains the recognition it deserves. Less than 4 % of Nobel Prizes for science have ever been awarded to women, and only 11 % of senior research roles are held by women in Europe.
Women are increasingly being recognized as more vulnerable to climate change impacts than men, as they constitute the majority of the world’s poor and are more dependent on the natural resources that climate change threatens the most.
At the same time, women and girls are effective and powerful leaders and change-makers for climate adaptation and mitigation. They are involved in sustainability initiatives around the world, and their participation and leadership result in more effective climate action.
Continuing to examine the opportunities, as well as the constraints, to empower women and girls to have a voice and be equal players in decision-making related to climate change and sustainability is essential for sustainable development and greater gender equality. Without gender equality, today, a sustainable future, and an equal future, remain beyond our reach.