As we step into the sixth year of commemorating International Day of Women and Girls in Science, it is important to recognize that academic opportunities will enable women's to forge successful careers in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) industry.
Despite all odds, it’s admirable to see that women are striving ahead in diverse areas of STEM, be it in agriculture, medicine, botany, engineering or even in the development sector. UNESCO reports that only around 30 percent of all female students select STEM-related fields in higher education. Globally, female students’ enrolment is particularly low in ICT (3 percent), natural science, mathematics and statistics (5 percent) and in engineering, manufacturing and construction (8 percent).
Regionally, female researchers account for 48.2 percent of the workforce in Central Asia, 23.9 percent for East Asia and the Pacific and 18.5 percent for South and West Asia according to the UNESCO Institute of Statistics.
On the occasion of International Day of Women in Science, ADPC created digital postcards featuring ADPC female staff and CARE for South Asia female specialists in science and technical positions who are leaders in their own field. Read their stories of success and inspiration below:
An enthusiastic urban architect with a love of all things concerning nature, Chinaporn discovered how climate change was impacting her designs aimed at improving people’s lives, and eventually delved further into this issue to become a hydrologist.
She recalls working under the BRACED project in Nepal as one of her proudest achievements – travelling to the furthest corners of the Himalayan country to conduct interviews on issues of flood early warning and flood risk management. The project shared knowledge across countries from government to the village to find out their gaps and to look at the institutional mechanisms for assessing, monitoring, communicating and responding to flood risk information and warnings across three river basins.
Chinaporn notes that communicating with various people and dealing with different perspectives remains a challenge in her work. But through listening attentively and understanding all stakeholder needs, she has been able to find success in her work and collaborations. She urges fellow women scientists to work hard and keep giving their best in order to blow away gender stereotypes and prejudices. She would like to see more women in science to help promote diversity, fulfill creativity and inspire young girls not to be deterred by the complexity of this industry.
Grit, dedication and commitment to finding solutions for drought prone areas in Sri Lanka, Sashika recalls her PhD degree as being one of her greatest accomplishments. Her doctoral research was to enhance the growth performance of rubber plants to improve adaptability in drought stress conditions in the area of Moneragala, Ampara Districts in Uva Province, Sri Lanka.
The three-decade long civil war that ended in 2009 in Sri Lanka led to uncertainties of water, lost crops and a slump in the agriculture sector. As a mother of a 7-month-old, in 2012, Sashika spent days and sometimes months away from her family conducting research on the feasibility of introducing rubber to non-traditional areas where the climate conditions are sub-optimal for growing rubber. She spent weeks with little access to water and food however her resolve was unshaken.
She was determined to find a reliable solution for the farmer communities in Moneragala Districts. She raised awareness amongst the farmers to cultivate rubber plants and also provided subsidies to cultivate seasonal crops as intercrops. Sashika believes that women are forward thinkers and excellent stress managers, and if given the right kind of encouragement and support, will improve women’s representation in STEM.
Serena’s interest in research and disaster risk reduction has taken her abroad from earning a Bachelors in Environment Science in her home country of Nepal to graduating a Master of Science in Disaster Preparedness, Mitigation and Management in Thailand.
Born and raised in a country where earthquakes are consistent, Serena recalls her greatest accomplishment was helping affected communities connect with their loved ones and conducting needs assessments while on mission with Telecoms sans Frontieres.
She is a firm advocate for localized disaster initiatives, having spent nearly two years strengthening leadership qualities and build ownership of local people on creating model landscape areas in her past career with ICIMOD.
As a DRR Mainstreaming Coordinator, she strives to bring together different backgrounds of people and understand their communication style so that stakeholders can agree on the same end goal.
Serena advises that fellow women scientists require not only financial support, but constant emotional support to enter this competitive field so they can compete on equal terms. She would like to see more women and girls join this field to invoke new trains of thought and explore different results and breakthroughs.
A geographer at heart, Sry majored in Cartography and Remote sensing and uses geospatial information to develop maps from a series of complex satellite data to help people at risk on the ground. She notes her greatest accomplishment as contributing to development of a public shelter in Dala Township, Myanmar based on recommendations from ADPC.
In this field of work, Sry must on occasion overcome the lack of spatial data available by local governments to make informed decisions and recommendations. Therefore, she advises that more women should be involved in processing and preparing back-up plans.
She is optimistic that more women are getting more opportunities to pursue a career in science, and as time goes by, advises that women must continue to strive for securing top positions in the field. She notes that multiple factors such as lack of opportunity for promotion or internal pressure of balancing family and workplace can offset women from reaching their potential. She also believes that more women in top positions are going to allow more women-friendly policy in the work-setting.
Nevertheless, as more women earn science-related degrees and join her field of work, Sry is confident that stereotype of traditional womanly jobs will be erased and provide a more balanced perspective of new ideas.
A humble and experienced data researcher, Thitiphon understands that applying sciences in the field of disaster risk reduction is just as important as understanding the subject itself. From developing construction guidelines for tsunami-affected provinces in Thailand to managing an institutional strengthening project in Ethiopia, she remains adamant to create change through research and policies that promote disaster resilience.
Thitiphon recalls one of her most notable achievement as contributing to an online reporting system that calculates the cumulative sector-wise damage and loss following a disaster event in Sri Lanka. With this new system, she believes the government will be able to systematically collate post-disaster effects and more effectively allocate budgets and resources for recovery needs.
She calls on women and girls to find motivation and inspiration in the most human of experiences while pursuing a career in the STEM industry. She applauds women who are overcoming the many odds stacked against them and takes it as courageous audacity to be in spaces where their voices a making a difference.
Thitiphon’s final recommendations are that fields of science, like any other disciplines, require different and disruptive perspectives. When women scientists share their lived experiences, their work is synergistic, holistic, and comprehensive.