On 22 December 2015, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a resolution to establish an annual International Day to recognise the critical role that women and girls play in science and technology communities: “Girls continue to face stereotypes and social and cultural restrictions, limiting access to education and funding for research, preventing them from scientific careers and reaching their full potential. Women remain a minority in science research and decision-making”, wrote Irina Bukova, Director-General of the UNESCO. A celebration event took place on February 9th 2017 morning at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, focusing on Building capacity and Empowering women and girls and on various actions on Women, Science and Society.
In Europe, since the early 2000’s, the European Commission has devoted many initiatives and projects to women scientists, raising the awareness on this issue in the Member States. Its current objectives are threefold:
- Gender balance in research teams,
- Gender balance in decision-making,
- Integration gender/sex analysis in Research and Innovation content.
For these purposes over the last years many projects like GARCIA and others focused on “Changing the institutions”, among which INTEGER and GENERA were more concerned with women physicists. Several other EU projects dealt with science education for young people outside a school environment, like the current Hypatia project for teenage girls.
Governments and private companies also took numerous actions on these topics. Here we list a few examples of actions, in relation with physics, of women scientists’ associations, targeting girls or women scientists.
Promotion of science for girls
- In Portugal, Amonet is introducing the experimental study of science and technology in pre-schools and primary education and even in the family
- In the UK, the Women in Physics Group of the Institute of Physics is implied in “Physicists in the Primary Schools” to interest children in physics, with demonstrations and hands-on activities;
- In France, the associations Femmes & Sciences, femmes et mathématiques and Femmes Ingénieurs are jointly acting as role models in classes. Femmes & Sciences produced videos of young women and men scientists’ testimonies.
Actions in favour of women scientists
Many national associations are acting in favour of women scientists: we will focus on those of the French Physical Society (SFP) and of the European Platform of Women Scientists EPWS.
The objectives of the ‘Femmes & Physique’ (Women and Physics) commission of the SFP are
- attracting more women towards physics, helping female physicists (FP) to optimise their career management, and
- developing a network of female physicists in France.
The actions are various and tend to increase the female physicists’ visibility and ameliorate the well-being of women in Physics.
Each year, a colloquium is organised during a SFP conference on a topic related to these issues (see picture). This is also an opportunity for FP to meet physicists of other research domains and thus to expand their networking. Based on recommendations, a list of female good speakers was constructed to help conference organisers in inviting FP. A charter for “Gender fairness in conferences” was written and is now submitted to different financing/labelling organisations. Women are proposed to different awards; papers on or by women are promoted in the SFP journal: ”Reflets de la Physique”. Selected women are contacted and motivated to participate to national and local hiring committees.
Mentoring is organised to help women to find a person to discuss with before an important decision.
The European Platform of Women Scientists EPWS is an international non-profit organisation that represents the needs, concerns, interests, and aspirations of more than 12.000 women scientists in Europe and beyond. Its main goals are:
- Increasing the participation of women scientists in European research policy and the shaping of the EU research agenda;
- Enhancing the participation of women in science and in its decision-making bodies as well as in national and European research programmes, especially in EU Framework Programmes for Research and Technological Development;
- Promoting the understanding and the integration of the gender dimension in science.
Its member associations represent various disciplines or are multi-disciplinary. EPS, the Institute of Physics, the Italian Physical Society are members of EPWS which also welcomes individual members.
In conclusion, in spite of many actions undertaken, in particular by women scientists themselves, much remains to be done for a balanced participation of women and men in science. Therefore the UN initiative of an International Day of Women and Girls in Science is highly welcome!