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13 February 2023

It is widely accepted that supporting diversity and equality promotes creativity and research in the scientific community. All around the world there are women and girls contributing to the pursuit of discovery and the advancement of human knowledge. Programs that incorporate as many perspectives, voices and abilities as possible are key as scientists around the world work to build a brighter future.

The International Day of Women and Girls in Science (11 February) observes the importance of diversity and celebrates its impact within the field of science. 

The day was founded by HRH Princess Dr Nisreen El-Hashemite during the inaugural High-Level World Women’s Health and Development Forum of 2015. The idea for a day recognising international women and girls in science was endorsed by more than 65 countries, and in a historical moment on 22 December 2015, the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly declared 11 February to be the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. 

The gender gap at all levels of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) is a current concern that has a long history. In the 19th century, feminist Matilda J. Gage brought attention to the lack of recognition of women scientists compared to their male counterparts. This disparity of underrepresentation with women in scientific roles became known as the “Matilda Effect”. 

However, along with the establishment of the International Day of Women and Girls and Science, a great variety of initiatives are working to bridge the gender gap in science and shine a light on the achievements of women working in STEM. 

Working with United Nations Member States, Inter-Governmental Organisations and the United Nations, and led by its Executive Director, HRH Princess Dr Nisreen El-Hashemite, the Royal Academy of Science International Trust (RASIT) promotes equality in science, technology and innovation for socio-economic development. This partnership focuses on the implementation of the United Nations' 2030 Agenda and has multiple initiatives for sustainable development. 

One such initiative is the Girls in Science 4 SDGs International Platform, which seeks to spotlight the leadership role of girls in science as a source of inspiration for a better future by 2030 and beyond. The platform showcases the achievements of girls in science that promote equality, health, education, climate change and more. In 2021, the platform published its first issue of “Beyond 30”, a magazine that keeps readers informed of recent achievements as well as diverse viewpoints from girls around the world. 

Y4X is a program that encourages men and boys to support women and girls in science. Its focus is to remind men and boys of the value that women and girls have in their contributions to STEM and encourages achieving gender equality across all fields. 

There are also initiatives seeking equality outside of the gender issue. Writing Science in Braille is a global campaign aiming to ensure no one is left behind and supports blind and low-vision STEM academics across the globe. 

These initiatives are vital as there is still progress to be made in the inclusion of women at all levels of STEM industries. Although women account for half of the population, only 27 per cent of the workforce across STEM industries in Australia are women. In leadership roles, a mere 23 per cent of senior management and 8 per cent of CEOs in STEM-qualified industries are women. 

Women making an impact at AITHM 

Women are responsible for a significant portion of ground-breaking research occurring both nationally and internationally. In the Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine (AITHM) at James Cook University, female researchers are making significant scientific contributions. 

Professor Emma McBryde, an infectious disease mathematical modeller, led a team of modellers that developed the Global Pandemic Map. This online tool predicts the location and rate of emerging viral/pathogen epidemics, as well as their global effects. This award-winning team was at the forefront of informing policy makers on ways to minimise the impact and spread of COVID-19 and provided strategies to achieve herd immunity. 

As a molecular immunologist, Professor Denise Doolan’s research leads many facets of diagnostic platform development, vaccine antigens and therapeutics for global infectious diseases. Her multidisciplinary work plays a critical role in improving public health in regional Australia and the Tropics. Her work earned her a place among the 31 health leaders announced as Fellows of the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences for 2022. 

Get involved in supporting women and girls in science 

There are many opportunities to learn and contribute to supporting women and girls in science. Through the #February11 movement, you can partner your business with development initiatives, join a global network of women in science, or register your activity with #February11. 

Every action taken to support women and girls in science or to pursue scientific endeavours as a woman or girl is a step towards building a brighter, more inclusive, sustainable and resilient future.

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