Women in science honoured
Women scientists in fields from agriculture to electrical engineering have been honoured as role models for a generation of Samoan girls currently studying science by the country's top United Nations representative.
Dr. Simona Marinescu, Samoa’s Resident Coordinator for the United Nations, spoke on Thursday at an event marking the sixth International Day of Women and Girls in Science.
She paid tribute to a number of Samoa’s women scientists, researchers, teachers and doctors.
She also applauded women who have been working around on the frontlines in health, medicine and related fields in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic.
“Today – the sixth International Day for Women and Girls in Science — I would particularly like to applaud every woman around the world who is braving the uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic [and] serving their countries,” Dr. Marinescu said.
“I would especially like to acknowledge the courage of those Samoan women who are at the borders conducting COVID-19 tests for quarantined international passengers.”
The annual event honouring women in science was held at the Baha’i House of Worship at Tiapapata.
“In Samoa, women have always been responsible for taking a leadership role in discovery, innovation and the keeping of customary wisdom,” Dr. Marinescu said.
“This tradition continues for Samoan women scientists, researchers, educators and doctors. To name just a few who are extremely accomplished in their fields.”
Among those named by the United Nations' country head included:
• Dr. Patila Malua-Amosa, the Dean of the Faculty of Science at the National University of Samoa.
• Dr. Seeseei Molimau-Samasoni, a former Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Sunshine Coast, Australia; manager of the Plant and Postharvest Technologies Division at the Scientific Research Organisation of Samoa, and one of three scientists in Samoa leading the fight against COVID-19 and African Swine Fever.
• Frances Reupena-Pogi, the Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry Natural Resources and Environment and former Assistant C.E.O. of the Environment, Water and Sanitation Sector.
• Easter Chu Sing, the first ever Deputy Director-General of South Pacific Regional Environment Programme and a former Assistant Resident Representative for the environment programme at the U.N. Development Programme.
• Afamasaga Dr. Karoline Afamasaga-Fuata’i, the science and mathematics educator – and C.E.O. of the Ministry of Education Sports and Culture.
• Dr. Taema Imo, an environmental and science educator and Associate Professor at the National University of Samoa.
• Stephanie Vagana Lomitusi, an electrical engineer, and owner and manager of her own electrical company.
“Gender equality and access to science are both recognized as human rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. To achieve the Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda, we need to solve challenges faced by the people and planet,” said Dr. Marinescu.
“Science is a powerful tool to create solutions for issues such as poverty, health, climate change, water and energy resources. However, the truth is, there are not enough women or girls in science.”
Citing soon-to-be-released research from the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (U.N.E.S.C.O.), Dr. Marinescu said only 33 per cent of scientific researchers are women, even though they represent 45 and 55 percent of Bachelor’s and Master’s students respectively,
In Asia and the Pacific, that figure is even lower with only 23 percent of researchers are women.
Only 25 women have been awarded Nobel prizes in physiology, medicine, chemistry, physics, or economic sciences.
“This is just 3.5 percent of all Nobel awards in these categories. Women are also less likely to hold senior authorship positions, make up small minorities of senior staff positions at universities and get paid less than their male counterparts,” Dr. Marinescu said.
“Sustainable development requires stronger science and more scientists. No country can afford to waste the talent of half of its population. The under-representation of women in [Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics] translates into the loss of a critical mass of talent, thoughts and ideas, which hinders countries from reaching their maximum potential.”
In Samoa – as in most of the world – girls achieve just as well as boys in science and maths based subjects, she said.
But she said gender stereotypes discourage women from succeeding in the field of science.
“We need to break these stereotypes, expose young women to role models – like the international and Samoan ones I mentioned earlier – in science sectors,” Dr. Marinescu said.
“Promoting the participation of women and girls in science means changing mindsets and the biases that limit girls’ passions, expectations and professional goals – even since childhood.”
Gender gaps in the ownership and the use of technology products needs to be addressed, she said.
Businesses that work in the science field need to work to address gender equality and women’s empowerment in the workplace.
“For example, science and research institutions and companies can offer reintegration and training for women returning to the field after maternity leave,” Dr. Marinescu said.
She encouraged every woman and girl with a passion for science to pursue their dreams.