Women scientists in Gulf show the way - GulfToday

Women scientists in Gulf show the way


Picture used for illustrative purposes only.

According to UNESCO Science Report 2021, women taking to science account for 40 per cent of the scientific workforce in the Gulf Arab countries compared to the worldwide figure of 33 per cent. And in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) half the engineering graduates are women. The report says that though there is gender parity in the field of scientific research at the doctorate level, there are still not enough women in leadership roles. The women achievers in science emphasise that there is need for greater societal change for women to do more and to do better. Fourteen women scientists were honoured at a L’Oreal-UNESCO for Women in Science Middle East event at Expo 2020 in Dubai last month.Ghada Dushaq from New York University Abu Dhabi, one of the 14 honoured, said, “Innovative and ground-breaking scientific ideas require the talents of both women and men.” She feels, “Achieving gender equality in science will create a balanced and holistic approach to leadership and better-educated children in future generations.” Dushaq’s post-doctoral work is in photonics which would improve the “speed, accuracy and capacity of conventional technologies.”

Halima Alnaqbi of Khalifa University, who was also honoured and is from a small town in the UAE, says that in her growing-up years she found people in her community suffered from rare diseases which had to do with genetics, and this in turn was due to consanguineous marriages. She says, “As I grew older and became a biomedical engineer, I channelled my intrinsic motivation to solve challenges that impacted my society and the world. I particularly devoted my knowledge and skills to studying the genes that govern the immune system (immunogenetics) in the Arabian population, which play an important role in the development of autoimmune diseases.”

The example of Dushaq and Alnaqbi shows that the focus of research work is more related to the challenges of development that Arab countries face. Though scientific research in a certain sense is considered universal, that is it does not matter where the research work is done it is applicable anywhere, it becomes apparent that research work related to local issues is important. Only Arab scientists like Dushaq and Alnaqbi can identify the problems on the ground and relate their research to solving the problems of the people of the region. It is becoming evident that what is universal about science is the research methodology, but the problems sought to be solved through science are region-specific. If the Arab region, and the Middle East in general, are to forge a technological future, the work needs to be done in the region.

What is interesting about the demographic profile in many of the Gulf Arab countries, and especially in the UAE, is that a lot more women are part of the educated workforce. In many other developing countries, women’s enrolment in schools and colleges is far below that of boys and young men. It should not come as a surprise if in the course of time women take up leadership roles in science and technology. Gender discrimination that is common to traditional societies is giving way to greater participation of women in all spheres of life, especially in science. What is also missing in the UAE and other Gulf countries is the entrenched male domination in institutions of research seen in the most advanced developed countries in Europe and North America. The field is open for women in the Gulf region whereas women in Europe and America need to break through many glass ceilings. As scientific research picks up momentum in the 21st century in Gulf Arab countries, women enjoy an advantage denied to women in developed societies.

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