Monday, December 13, 2010

Awards for Arab Female Scientists

This is a weekly post by Nidhal Guessoum (see his earlier posts here). Nidhal is an astrophysicist and Professor of Physics at American University of Sharjah
The subject of the extent of Arab women’s attraction to and participation in Science (studies or research) is an interest one, about which I’ve written here before. It is an interesting one because as soon as one looks into it, whether through the data or through one’s experience on the ground, one quickly finds that any stereotypes break down. For example, students majoring in Science are 60-80 % female… in the (conservative and traditionally viewed) Gulf! One may also point to the fact that results of international competitions such as TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) show that Arab/Muslim girls almost always outperform boys in such standardized tests, sometimes by leaps and bounds.
Still, one should not celebrate such progress too soon, for observations and experience (in the absence of hard data) show that these female advances have yet to translate in the professional arenas. It is true that several universities in the Arab world, including and sometimes particularly in the Gulf, have female presidents or deans of various colleges, from Arts and Science to Shariaa (Islamic Law); in the UAE, the Minister of Economy has for several years now been a woman. However, these remain bright spots that do not statistically constitute any male-female parity in academia or the science-technology sector. It is still clearly evident that women are rare in these fields, though probably not just in the Arab-Muslim world.
That is why L’Oreal, the famous French cosmetics brand which now constitutes the largest such group in the world, in 1998 created, in collaboration with the Unesco, “For Women in Science, an annual award recognizing 5 women researchers who have contributed to scientific progress and 15 promising young women, who receive fellowships. In addition to this, the Arab Science and Technology Foundation (ASTF) and the Regional Bureau for Unesco, have partnered with L’Oreal to recognize 5 Arab women for their substantial contributions in various science fields. Each of the five winners receives a cash award of $20,000.
This year there were 149 applications from various Arab countries. The five winners (seen in the image below, from left to right) were: Jenny Jeehan Nasr from Egypt, Eman Rabhi from Tunisia, Rania Zaarour from the UAE, Rehab Mohammad Ameen from Egypt, and Entissar Al-Suhaibani from Saudi Arabia. 
Professor Nasr from the Faculty of Pharmacy of Mansoura (Egypt), and Prof. Ameen, from the National Institute of Laser Enhanced Science at Cairo University, were rewarded for their research in the field of photobiology and pharmaceutical chemical analysis. Professor Rabhi, the Tunisian biologist, was recognized for her work on the Leishmania parasitic infection on macrophage metabolic pathways. Prof. Zaarour, who works at the College of Medicine of the University of Sharjah (UAE), was awarded for her cancer research shedding light on the complex relationship between tumor cells and the surrounding host cells. And Prof. Al-Suhaibani, from King Saud University in Riyadh, was recognized for her work in the field of radiation genotoxicity.
One of the main reasons I am writing about this here is to encourage any and all active female scientists/researchers, whether from the Arab world (through this regional award and fellowship program) or from the rest of the world (through the wider L’Oreal award program) to apply.
Here are a few additional informative items (from the L’Oreal-UK website):

v The Founding Awards: The founding L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women In Science Awards honour five leading researchers, one from each continent, with a prestigious laureate of up to US$100,000 in recognition of their groundbreaking achievements and contributions to scientific progress. The international structure of the programme ensures that the laureates are distributed among women who are working under a variety of conditions.

v The L’Oréal-UNESCO International Fellowships: The L’Oréal-UNESCO Fellowships for Young Women in Life Sciences are run internationally and have awarded 120 promising female doctorate or post-doctorate scientists up to US$40,000 each, since their inauguration in 2000. Fifteen fellowships are awarded annually to help promising women scientists undertake research projects outside of their home countries in some of the world’s most prestigious laboratories.

v National Fellowships: National fellowships, such as the UK and Ireland programme detailed below, run in 35 countries around the world. Each National fellowship programme helps women pursue their scientific careers and have, to date, enabled 340 women to continue their research. At the end of 2008, over 50 countries have established their own programmes. 

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