International day for women and girls in Science and the engagement of NSF Sri Lanka to assist the progression of women

International day for women and girls in Science and the engagement of NSF Sri Lanka to assist the progression of women

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International day for women and girls in Science and the engagement of NSF Sri Lanka to assist the progression of women
At present, less than 30 per cent of researchers worldwide are women. According to UNESCO data (2014 - 2016), only around 30 per cent of all female students select STEM-related fields in higher education. Science and gender equality are both vital for the achievement of the internationally agreed development goals, including the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Over the past 15 years, the global community has made a lot of effort in inspiring and engaging women and girls in science. One such effort is the declaration of 11 February as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science by the UN in 2012, in order to achieve full and equal access to and participation in science for women and girls, and further achieve gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has clearly demonstrated the critical role of women researchers in different stages of the fight against COVID-19, from advancing the knowledge on the virus, to developing techniques for testing, and finally to creating the vaccine against the virus. Thus, this year’s celebration of the Day will address the theme “Women Scientists at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19” and will gather together experts working in fields related to the pandemic from different parts of the world.

National Science Foundation of Si Lanka being the premier science funding agency of the country has also recognized the importance of the contribution of women for the advancement of science and the development of the country. It had launched the ‘Women in Science’ programme in 2018 which was subsequently established as a ‘Gender in STEM’ programme in 2019. It had conducted a study as well on the Gender in STEM aspects of Sri Lanka related to Higher Education and Research, Innovation and Entrepreneurship of which the report is to be released soon. Several actions and a major programme to harness the potentials of women for the development of the country too are in the pipeline at the moment. The contribution of female professionals including the expatriate Sri Lankans abroad will be highly recognized through such programmes in the future.

Women possess several distinctive attributes which enable them to outperform men in several spheres and to achieve spectacular results. However, the spirit and vitality of women as a catalyst for development have neither been duly recognized nor appreciated. Empathy, emotional intelligence, multi-tasking, an ability to wear several hats, the balancing of career and household responsibilities, and intuitive perceptiveness are among the features that are more salient among women than among men. Margaret Thatcher once said “Any woman who understands the problems of running a home will be nearer to understanding the problems of running a country”. “Women are more compassionate and sensitive than men”, said the Dalai Lama. The twenty-first century requires caring and empathetic leaders who can establish emotional connection with their fellow workers and community. Had these qualities of women been recognized and harnessed, and if women had been appropriately empowered, there might well have been less disquiet, unrest and violence in the world and this planet might have been a more pleasant and rewarding place to live in.

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