كلمة النائب سامي الجميّل في اليوم العالمي للنساء والفتيات في ميدان العلوم في مقر الأمم المتحدة في نيويورك
Mr. Secretary General, your excellencies, fellow panelists, ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon.
It is a great honor and pleasure for me to be here with you today and I thank the organizers for offering me a voice on this important day of February-- a day of victory for women and girls in science.
For far too long, women and girls in science have frequently not received recognition and rewards for their achievements, innovation and excellence. Less than 3% of the Nobel Prizes in Science have been awarded to women (46 female laureates only). And for those few pioneers who moved from the shadows to the spotlight, they had to speak louder and work ten times harder than their male counterparts to prove that they are worthy of equal treatment.
However, due to the remarkable work of UNESCO, UN-Women, ITU, the Government of Malta, and The Royal Academy of Science International Trust- in particular her Highness Princess Nisreen El Hashemite, we are, today, celebrating the First International Day of Women and Girls in Science. Outstanding female students, researchers and innovators across various fields will no more be marginalized or relegated to footnotes. Their courageous work will be embraced and valued around the world and the challenges they are enduring will be addressed so they could realize their full potential and be a source of inspiration for many other girls and women to follow.
- Situational analysis of women scientists in Lebanon
According to a recent report by the Euro-Mediterranean Research Cooperation on Gender and Science, the number of women who have studied sciences in my home country Lebanon surpasses men. Nonetheless, this number is not replicated in the workforce. On the contrary, the population of researchers in Lebanon remains male-dominated. In the higher education sector, despite a significant improvement compared with 2004, the share of women stood at 37% in 2010.
The field with the greatest gender imbalance is that of engineering and technology: 21% of entire male researchers compared with just 11% of female researchers are active in this field.
Speaking of seniority, the proportion of women is the smallest at the top of the academic hierarchy with only 23% at grade A compared to 61% at the lowest grade D. Moreover, of the 42 higher education institutions in Lebanon, only 2 have a female head.
This reality indicates clearly the existence of a glass ceiling of gender-based challenges and country-specific obstacles that hold back women pursuing scientific careers.
- Gender-based challenges
I will first outline the 4 main gender-based challenges in Lebanon, which are: stereotypes, social norms, inadequate legal framework, and inequalities in salary and promotion
The gender imbalance in scientific communities is due to the fact that for a long time, science was considered an exclusive, gentlemen profession. Despite recent advances, this particular perception is still enshrined in the societies of Lebanon and the Middle East and hinders the entry of girls and women into scientific careers.
- Social Norms
Girls are generally raised to put marriage and raising a family as their top priority. An extremely demanding scientific career is usually opposed by family, and women scientists are often pushed at their mid-career to choose between following their job and having a family.
- Inadequate legal framework
Maternity leave in Lebanon was extended to 10 weeks in April 2014. Previously, women were entitled to one of the lowest maternity leave periods in the world (49 days). Following this amendment of the labor law-- which I personally supported as member of parliament-- a woman cannot be fired by her employer during pregnancy or maternity leave nor can her salary be decreased. Nonetheless, the absence of flexible shifts and childcare facilities at work continue to challenge women abilities to balance between their job responsibilities and family life, especially when both partners are scientists. In the latter case, it is mostly women who end up quitting their scientific career while their husbands continue their research vocation unaffected.
- Inequalities in salary and promotion
Another unconscious bias is that female scientists only play a supporting role in a mixed research team; therefore they are often paid less and neglected in leadership positions. The Central Administration of Statistics in Lebanon reported a gender wage gap of 6% for jobs in science, which is a low gap compared to western countries such as the US and the UK.
- Country- specific obstacles
Second, Lebanese Women in Science are confronted with 2 principal country- specific obstacles, namely: the lack of research and developments facilities and the lack of scientific job opportunities.
- Lack of Research & Development facilities
Lebanon has a small science and technology community embedded in one third of its universities, and three research centers. Research & Development in the private sector is very limited given the small size of most manufacturing companies.
- Lack of scientific job opportunities
The average number and level of research laboratories in Lebanon and the Middle East in general restricts the job market to a few job opportunities and impedes male and female scientists’ potential to thrive. However, women are more impacted by this shortage of employment because of their reluctance to travel abroad to work in their field due to familial, societal and financial restrictions.
While there has a been a positive progress in Lebanon during the past 10 years, it is nevertheless slow and should not mask the fact that, in the absence of transformative policies and initiatives, it will take decades to close the gender gap in scientific education, training and careers.
- Policy imperatives for women in science in Lebanon
After giving this overview of the state of women scientists in Lebanon, I will conclude with some policy recommendations for consideration.
The Lebanese constitution clearly stipulates that all citizens have equal rights and enjoy equal opportunities in all spheres of life without any distinction as to sex or religion. Furthermore, Lebanon acceded to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1997.
Nonetheless, facts and figures indicate that high levels of inequalities persist in recruitment, pay and advancement of girls and women in science in Lebanon.
Policies, actions, legislation and initiatives could be developed and implemented to redress the balance and ensure better opportunities in education, training and career of female scientists. For instance:
- Promote a cultural shift and reduce gender biases and unconscious stereotypical expectations by changing school textbooks that often portray women in domestic and traditional social settings hence impacting the students’ perception of gender roles.
- Encourage girls at a young age to study science by raising awareness that science is made for boys and girls equally. The gender equality campaigns should target both students and teachers.
- Raise the profile of female role models in science in the media to inspire other female scientists and provide them with support and guidance in pursuing a scientific education and profession. Additionally, promote women to advance into senior and decision-making positions.
- Offer scholarships and create national awards for Women and Girls in Science: As a member of the Lebanese parliamentary committees of Education and Human Rights respectively, I submitted a proposal in this regard to the ministry of education on April 22, 2015 calling for the creation of national awards and prizes to celebrate the achievements of Lebanese female students in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).
- Encourage partnerships between industries and universities to create joint projects and encourage research and innovation, and raise funds for new R&D facilities that could create new jobs and training opportunities, especially in the emerging Lebanese petroleum industry.
- Allocate tax incentives for businesses and companies that ensure flexible work shifts for women and/or childcare facilities at the workplace or empower women scientists within their corporate social responsibility activities.
To conclude, it is a shame to lose wonderful talents just because, as Shirley Chisholm once said, “that talent wears a skirt”.
We need not be a woman to embrace the cause of gender equality in science. Men, just like women, have an important role to play in encouraging women and girls to nurture their talents and enter into courses of study that will enable them to contribute effectively to the scientific and technological advancement of our societies, today and tomorrow.
I firmly believe that we will succeed in ensuring the equal participation of women and girls in science at all levels.
We will not do this overnight, but with sheer resolve, we will do it. And today is simply our first international day in that direction.