Nature Middle East | House of Wisdom

Men blamed for holding back women scientists

Women scientistsThe hardship and obstacles that women scientists in the Arab world face may actually be blamed on the attitude of their male counterparts in workplaces, as well as the ongoing lack of support from the government, suggests SciDev.Net.

This came up during the Women in Science and Technology in the Arab Countries, held last week in Kuwait. The conference itself, according to the organizers, had very little support or funding from countries in the region. in a blogpost at SciDev.Net, Nehal Lasheen, a science journalist based in Cairo who was attending the conference, points out that major science players in the region – such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia, had almost no representatives at the conference.

Over a fifth of attendees did not even come from Arab states, but came from other countries such as India, Pakistan and South Africa. Additionally, there was very little presence of men at the conference. There was only one male scientist presenting a paper at the conference, and hardly any men in the audience throughout the three day meeting.

This begs the question: what is the actual purpose of this conference? The stated goal is to shed light on research carried out by female scientists, and discuss the obstacles facing them.

This is a worthy cause – but the way it was set up here is like preaching to the converted. Women attendees are very much aware of the challenges women scientists face – in fact, they live them day in, day out. It’s policymakers that need to be made aware of these problems. Decision-makers, heads of universities and research centres need to be pushed to make changes in the workplace that make it a better working environment for women, who often have to juggle a challenging career as a scientist and a demanding position in the family.

More men should also be attending to listen, discuss, debate and ultimately understand how hard it can be for women to pursue careers in science, in the hope that this will eventually bring about a cultural change that makes Arab communities more accepting of female scientists.

According to SciDev.Net, the conference organizers did try hard to garner support from the private sector but there was little interest. It can be challenging to start this kind of paradigm shifting change. However, until that becomes a reality with a little chipping over and over, these events will fail to have the effect they are supposed to have – which is especially troubling post-Arab Spring since many women are worried about regulations formed that can set up what little victories they had already won in the past.

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