Date: Mar 13, 2019
Source: The Daily Star
Women’s participation in research lagging
Abby Sewell| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Women make up 72 percent of doctoral students who receive scholarships from Lebanon’s National Council for Scientific Research. But while this figure would seem to suggest women’s robust participation in the scientific research field, the workplace tells a different story. Only 32 percent of research projects funded by the CNRS are led by women. And women receive only 26 percent of the annual research excellence awards given by the council. The low numbers, officials say, are a reflection not of the quality of women’s work but of the low number of women in the field.

“Whatever the reasons are, the result is the same,” said Dr. Tamara Elzein, a researcher and the coordinator of a new initiative intended to boost female participation in research in Lebanon.

“We are losing women’s scientific resources, and women are not participating in the scientific decision-making process.”

The CNRS and the Lebanese National Commission for UNESCO Monday launched the National Observatory for Women in Research - also known as Dynamic Actions for Women in Research and Knowledge.

The initiative aims to assess the reasons for the drop-off in the number of women in science in universities compared with the workplace, and to encourage more women to enter and stay in the research field.

The new initiative will tackle the issue from a number of angles, including advocating for policies within Lebanese universities to ensure that women have access to research and leadership positions, holding training for young female researchers and matching them with female role models and mentors, and providing funding for women in research.

Worldwide, women make up about 30 percent of researchers, according to UNESCO.

In the Middle East region generally, the number is higher - about 40 percent - but it varies by country.

Country-level statistics for Lebanon are not available.

Tala Zein, the secretary-general of the Lebanese National Commission for UNESCO, said she believes part of the issue is that women have internalized the societal belief that men are more intelligent and competent than women.

“This is not correct, but during the upbringing of girls, they come to believe this,” she said. “So even when they come to work in this field, they are less courageous than the men to apply for funds for their research or ideas - they become shy.”

Another issue, Zein said, is that women are still expected to shoulder the majority of the responsibility for child-rearing, leading to interruptions and obstacles to their career advancement.

The government could take measures to remedy this, she suggested, by, for instance, promoting men’s equal participation in child-rearing by giving men the same amount of parental leave as women receive.

CNRS Secretary-General Mouin Hamze said he believes the shortage of women in high political offices and government posts in the country has a trickle-down effect, preventing the passage of legislation that would promote women’s advancement.

The new initiative to support women researchers, he said, “meets a national need that can no longer be forgotten or ignored.”

“I am sure that the inadequate presence of Lebanese women at the leadership level is a loss for our society, which will only achieve half of the knowledge economy and less in innovation, depriving institutions of [women’s] vision and their special approach to management and development,” he said.