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A conference that met in Zurich, Switzerland, early in 2001 and that involved more than 200 delegates from Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America, Australia and New Zealand discussed the difficulties that women still confront in their scientific and teaching careers. Thus in Germany and Great Britain women account for only 8 percent of professorship and 22 percent of lecturers. In many European countries there are as good as no women among the faculty of natural science departments. The situation is somewhat better as far as Russia is concerned: for instance, women make up 22 percent of full and 50 percent of assistant professors of the faculty of Ivanovo University. They hold a worthy place in CIS countries, the former Soviet republics, both in academic research and in science at large, though men are predominant in the administration of universities and among holders of doctoral degrees. Overall, however, the European Union and Parliament expressed grave concern over the present setup, because equality of the sexes is essential for optimal results in the development of science. Women form a significant pool of the intellectual potential that science needs. International prizes "For Women in Science" are meant to encourage broader female involvement in science.
This award - "For Women in Science" - was instituted in 1997 by the elite French cosmetic firm HELENA RUBINSTEIN (which later merged with the larger company, L'OREAL) together with UNESCO. The first four awards were presented in January 1998 at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris*. And eighteen months later L'OREAL and UNESCO signed a framework agreement for five years (1999-2004) providing for further joint effort toward improving the situation of women scientists orwould-be scientists. Why this concerted effort? And why such attention?
Unfortunately the root cause of sex discrimination is anchored in the holdover mind sets. The inequality between the sexes is as old as the world. The woman's traditional role in the family and child rearing - as the custodian of the household - is a major obstacle for her active involvement elsewhere, in science too. Hence the ingrained ideas tending to question womankind's capacity to handle a career calling for steady intellectual application and analytical thinking. Women can make it as topnotch helpmates. As diligent lab assistants, teachers and what not. But man is always cock of the roost...
Yet women themselves will rebel against such gross injustice. Many decades ago they rose to smash such perverse stereotypes of thinking. Recall the Russian mathematician Sofia Kovalevskaya, the first ever woman to become a corresponding member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences (1889); or the physicist and chemist Marie Sklodowska-Curie, who merited the Nobel Prize twice, in 1903 and 1911, and subsequently became an honorary member of the Soviet Academy of Sciences. Other illustrious women broke the mold too. Still and all, men keep playing first fiddle at the top, in science too.
Seeking to set right this injustice, L'OREAL and UNESCO joined hands in a program aimed at enhanc-
* See: R. Petrov, "Women in Science", Science in Russia, No. 6, 1998. - Ed .
Professor Joan Argetsinger STEITZ (USA), world-renowned for her discoveries in the field of molecular biology.
She has studied the role of small RNA molecules in gene expression regulation.
Her work has advanced the diagnosis of certain rheumatic autoimmune diseases.
Professor Mayana ZATZ (Brazil), researching in human genetics.
She is involved with the genetics of hereditary neuromuscular diseases (muscular dystrophy) and with the social effects of these diseases.
Founder of the Brazilian
Muscular Dystrophy Association.
ing the female involvement in science. In keeping with this program, five women professors received UNESCO/L'OREAL prizes (awards) in January 2000;
another ten women scientists involved in post doctoral research were in for grants to provide incentives for their further pursuits and self-fulfillment.*
But why did UNESCO join in the endeavor? Because since the very foundation of this international organization in the aftermath of World War II it has been abiding by this key principle as defined in its statute: "... Contribute to maintaining the peace for creating closer collaboration between nations, through education, science and culture, so as to ensure universal respect for justice, the law, the rights of man and the fundamental liberty of all, without distinction of race, sex, language or religion." Deliberately oriented toward this end, UNESCO undertook a series of missions on behalf of women in various countries of the world. Specifically, among UNESCO's priority projects ten were developed to help women, supporting them by providing training assistance so as to encourage them in their scientific career.
But what about L'OREAL? Mr. Lindsay Owen-Jones, Chairman and CEO of L'OREAL, explains: "L'OREAL is first and foremost a research business. L'OREAL was founded nearly a century ago (...) on the
* See: R. Petrov, "International Prize 'Women in Science'", Science in Russia, No. 2, 2000. - Ed.
Professor Anne McLaren (Great Britain), a pioneer in reproductive biology.
Her research has greatly contributed to the development of in vitro fertilization. Simultaneously, she is closely concerned with the moral, legal and social issues associated with this problem.
Professor Adeyinka Gladys FALUSI (Nigeria), researching in human genetics.
She has studied the molecular genetics of hereditary blood diseases that are frequently found in West Africa, such as thalassemia, or sickle cell disease (drepanocytic anemia). She has thus paved the way for the prevention of these illnesses and opened up possibilities for prenatal diagnosis.
premise that science could and should help in the creation of quality cosmetic products that could be constantly improved (...). Nearly 60 percent of the engineers in our laboratories are women. Yet it is striking to see that the actual proportion of women active in public and private scientific institutions as a whole is still low (...). We gradually began to realize that we could change the situation. So by starting from our own experience in L'OREAL, we worked with UNESCO to develop a program that we jointly called 'For Women in Science'."
In keeping with the procedural rules of the UNESCO / L'OREAL partnership, the International Jury headed by Professor Christian de Duve, Nobel Prize winner for Medicine, 1974 (Belgium), and comprising fifteen eminent scientists from 15 countries (among the jurors were several women professors, including two prize winners of "Women in Science" awards for 1988 and 2000) considered candidates for the Honors List 2001. "The essential criterion in choosing these prize winners has been scientific excellence," Pr. Christian de Duve says. "The Jury took into account the originality and possible therapeutic applications of their work. Although the laureates' research fields range from gene expression to in vitro fertilization, they all have medical importance. Even though we did not prioritize any particular scientific discipline when assessing the candidates, those who were successful clearly demonstrate the importance of molecular biology in the life sciences."
Professor Suzanne CORY (Australia), involved with molecular biology.
She is renowned for her work on molecular biology of the immune system. She has deciphered the gene mechanism responsible for lymphomas, the tumors affecting immune system cells.
Director of the Walter and Eliza Hall
Institute of Medical Research.
The Jury awarded five prizes - $20,000 each - to Professor Joan Argetsinger Steitz (USA), representing North America; Professor Mayana Zatz (Brazil), representing South America; Professor Anne McLaren (Great Britain), representing Europe; Professor Adeyinka Gladys Falusi (Nigeria), representing Africa; and to Professor Suzanne Cory, representing Asia-Pacific.
Ten female scientists on the honors list were in for UNESCO / L'OREAL fellowships 2001 (representing Mexico, Colombia, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Nigeria, Congo, Egypt, Lebanon, Malaysia and New Zealand). The fellowships awarded to these women are meant as incentives for their further research in life sciences-namely, in plant biology, biochemistry, antibiotics, parasitology (genes in the parasite responsible for malaria), hereditary diseases, ecotoxicology (seawater pollution-detector shells), and so forth.
Speaking at the presentation ceremony, Koichiro Matsuura, Director General of UNESCO, said this in part:
"I am delighted to see the role of women in the scientific world, and more particularly in the field of life sciences, being acknowledged once more. This is the third time that this Award, the fruit of cooperation between L'OREAL and UNESCO, is being presented. The involvement of a major corporation such as L'OREAL alongside an organization like UNESCO is a perfect example of the sort of partnerships that we can build with the private sector. This type of cooperation, aimed at involving more women in the world's scientific endeavors, drives progress in science as well as in society as a whole."
Academician Rem V. PETROV, member of the International Jury of UNESCO / L'OREAL awards "For Women in Science ", Vice-President of the Russian Academy of Sciences
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