Harnessing Women’s Scientific Talent to Make a Global Difference

Harnessing women’s talents in the sciences holds a key to opening the doors of innovation and writing the next chapter of the scientific revolution we need to foster sustainable development, said the Director-General in a keynote address to prominent women scientists and decision makers, gathered for a two-day international forum in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia that opened on 25 May 2015.

The Forum was organized by the International Centre for South-South Cooperation in Science, Technology and Innovation, under the auspices of UNESCO (ISTIC). 

It gathered women professors, policy advisors, chiefs of private and public institutes from all regions in the aim of devising strategies to bridge the gap in women’s participation in science, technology and engineering at leadership levels in government and business.

“The world today needs more and better science. To succeed, science needs the talent of women and girls. Barriers to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) begin in the earliest years, with poor access to education. Once in school, girls face a steep gender bias that discourage them for choosing science,” said the Director-General, noting an even lower proportion that advances to professional careers, including in developed countries.

To break these barriers, the Director-General insisted on the need for new partnerships for innovation, for reinforced South-South cooperation and for mentoring and role models to promote career development. 

“Promoting women is essential to craft a new narrative about women in science, to strengthen the confidence of those who wish to become scientists.”

“The under-representation of women in science, technology and innovation is a universal challenge, because it is a moral failing and an economic loss,” said Dato Professor Dr Asma Ismail, Director General of Higher Education from the Ministry of Education of Malaysia. 

She called for significant investment in training, the appointment of more women science teachers, and the promotion of more mentors and inspirational models to overcome discrimination. She noted that encouraging and retaining women in science formed part of Malaysia’s educational reform blueprint. The country already has a high number of female students enrolled in science related courses.

ISTIC Chairman Dato’ Lee Yee Cheong announced his wish to institutionalize the Forum by holding it every two years, an initiative welcomed by the Director-General. 

“It is high time every country looks to fill its skilled human capital gap at all levels”, he said, asserting that achieving gender balance in science, technology and innovation is the way to win the war on poverty, hunger and disasters wrought by climate change.