Since its establishment in 2015, the International Day of Women and Girls in Science (11 February) has provided an opportunity to celebrate the often-underappreciated work of women in science all over the world. It also serves as a reminder of women’s crucial role to play in achieving the goals and targets of the 2030 Agenda. Given the on-going global health crisis, the theme of this year’s event centres around “Women scientists at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19”. UNICRI wishes to recognize the work of experts in fields related to the pandemic response, who are carrying out vital work to help control the spread of the virus.
In its mission to achieve Goal 16 of the 2030 Agenda, UNICRI continues to support the efforts of the 62 Member States which have joined the European Union (EU) Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Centres of Excellence Initiative, which aims to mitigate the risk and impact of CBRN incidents. For 2020, managing the COVID-19 pandemic was one of the Initiative’s main focus, with several targeted activities in different regions.
As a virologist at the Scientific Institute of Virology in Uzbekistan, Dr. Lyubov Lokteva worked day and night at the outbreak of the pandemic, stating that her and her colleagues had to show “all their strength”. Luckily, the Centres of Excellence Initiative provided “the opportunity to bring new equipment to Uzbekistan, which helped the laboratories to operate continuously during the pandemic”. The Initiative also facilitated international knowledge sharing, Dr. Lokteva explains that “through conducting online conferences, we have exchanged our knowledge with South Korea, Germany and China”.
Ms. Germaine Watsa Foka and Dr. Hanane Elkarima are two women working in the field of science in Africa who were involved in a training facilitated by the EU and UNICRI on ensuring safe and dignified burials to stop the spread of COVID-19. Thanks to the training, Ms. Watsa Foka, an environmental health engineer working for the Ministry of Health in Cameroon, was able to become a primary point-of-contact for the country’s national training programme. She believes that this “crisis has served to highlight the important role played by women in the response”. Dr. Elkarima, a civilian doctor in Casablanca, Morocco, also celebrates the role women have played in her country’s COVID-19 response, stating that her “fellow women are present in force at all levels, from the operational to the organisational”. The training allowed her to “expand [her] field of knowledge, share learnings with participants from other sectors, and realise just how important it is to collaborate with different partners”. For the women in science of tomorrow, she believes that “equal opportunities, motivation and recognition are the key words for moving forward”.
Dr. Ramatoulaye Diop Marico, Head of Department at the Senegalese Environmental Ministry and National Focal Point for the country’s CBRN programme, helped to organize COVID-19 response training in her country as part of the CBRN Initiative. She remains positive about the role of women in science in Senegal, stating that “the pandemic, in my opinion, has not widened the existing gender gap, on the contrary, in Senegal, it’s increased women’s opportunities”.
The pandemic has clearly demonstrated the critical role of women in science in different stages of the fight against COVID-19. For example, Dr. Ana Kasradze is the Head of Public Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Division at the National Center for Disease Control and Public Health of Georgia, where women represent 70% of the rapid response team. She is looking forward to a world where “all women regardless of their ethnicity, race, religion or social status have equal opportunities in science”.
Across our programmes, UNICRI will continue to support and advocate for women in science in order to help create safer, fairer and more equal societies.
Mr. Irakli Beridze, Head of UNICRI's Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics in The Hague, says: “As an International Gender Champion, I join my voice with all those celebrating the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. I unequivocally stress that gender equality and women’s rights are essential, especially to get through this pandemic together, to recover faster, and to build a better future for everyone. I believe that we can find momentum and tackle some of the challenges hindering progress on gender equality and women’s rights in general – and find more rigorous ways to put women’s leadership and contributions at the heart of resilience and recovery. This is also fundamental in the field of technological advances and innovation. I am confident that, if appropriately designed, there is a great potential for the use of AI to improve gender equality and combat discrimination."
Photo credits: @Helena Jankovičová Kováčová