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Celebrating the talent of women scientists


Published in

Diario de Navarra

María Ujué Moreno

Professor of the School of Sciences of the University of Navarra.

My aunt and uncle, who together have more than 180 years of experience, were saying a few days ago how lucky I am, that in their time, even if they were "worthy", women did not usually have the opportunity to study, let alone to pursue "science" careers. This is one of the reasons why every 11 February we celebrate the International Day of Women and Girls in Science all over the world. It is a date proposal by the United Nations for promote access and full and equal participation of women of all ages in science, and a reminder that women play a fundamental role in science and technology development , although their presence should certainly be strengthened. Today I would like to give thanks for what has been achieved, to consider areas where we still have work to address and, finally, to dream of a future where this day will not be necessary.

The reality of the presence of women in the history of science, although largely unsupported, unrecognised and unrecognised as it should be, is not lost on anyone. From ancient times to the present day, there are names of women who have contributed to science and technology and to a better world, such as Hildergard de Bingen, Wang Zhenyi and Marie-Anne Pierrette Paulze, among others. It is thanks to these pioneers that women have had a point of reference and have discovered their vocation. Through their tenacity and in some cases with the support of their families and mentors, women have been able to train and develop a scientific degree program . Their excellent work , often with great sacrifice staff and against the conventions of the time, has made possible their significant contribution to development of knowledge and technology. The work of associations that promote and sustain the professional development and give visibility to women's work is also to be welcomed. Thus, more and more girls are not hesitating to develop their scientific vocation.

Although in developed countries the professional incorporation of women into the scientific and technological development is partly underway, we must ask ourselves how to continue this important work. On the one hand, in families and schools we must remain vigilant in order to discover and promote the development of scientific vocations. It is essential that children have references that allow them to say "when I grow up I want to be...", and for this reason the role of scientists is invaluable, not only by doing science, but also by communicating science and giving visibility to their vocation. On the other hand, governments and institutions must substantially improve their support for the scientific and technological development with plans that sufficiently and continuously sustain the professional development , especially for women. Work-life balance continues to be a pending issue subject , as for women it is a barrier to choosing and developing their professional degree program , particularly in positions of responsibility and decision-making. Finally, only if we as a society make visible and value the effort and tenacity of scientists, and the great benefit - in terms of knowledge, health, ecology, industry, economics and society - that their work entails, will we have the will to protect and promote science.

We must not forget, however, that in a large part of our planet schooling, especially for girls, is a pending task. Where there is nothing to eat, where survival is the way of life, there is hardly any illusion or opportunity to think about a professional vocation, be it scientific or any other subject, which perpetuates the vicious circle of poverty, staff and social. We must also be aware of how easy it is to undo the path towards the full inclusion of women in any sphere of society; the status in Afghanistan, for example, reminds us of this on a daily basis.

Finally, I would like to reflect on the need to celebrate this day. As scientists, our status as women is not what defines us, it is a central aspect of our nature, but it does not determine our capabilities or our professional worth. Therefore, being grateful for what has already been achieved and knowing that we have areas in which to improve, let us look beyond and ask ourselves whether, as a society, it is not time to focus our drive on recognizing and supporting people's talent. Let us value the diversity of interests and capabilities, and let us commit ourselves to identifying the unique potential of each person in order to be able to support them appropriately. In line with what María Iraburu said when she took office as president of the University of Navarra, let us seek to be a society committed to talent, wherever it is and wherever it comes from, in which there is no need to design policies tailored to groups, but focused on each person and their capabilities, so that we can all put the development plenary session of the Executive Council of our vocation at the service of a better world.