Qatar Foundation empowers women to excel in the field of scientific innovation

International Women’s Day is marked today. The day offers an opportunity to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities. 

Around the world, views on female participation in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics can still differ. But with support and encouragement, more and more women are making their mark in these areas.

And in the Arab region, this support is coming from Qatar Foundation’s (QF) edutainment reality TV show ‘Stars of Science’, which, every year, inspires hundreds of ambitious young men and women across the Arab world to put their innovative technologies to the test.

Across its previous seasons, Stars of Science has seen 29 female innovators compete for the title of best Arab innovator. Among them is Dr. Nour Majbour, an associate researcher at Qatar Biomedical Research Institute (QBRI), part of QF’s Hamad Bin Khalifa University. She claimed second place in Season 10 of Stars of Science, and said: “My experience in the programme was very impressive – it is more than just a competition, and it helped me build a strong network of connections with my peers in this field.”

“It is important for women to be present in this type of programme, to demonstrate the importance of their role in building the scientific community. Of course, being in scientific fields is not easy, and it may be more difficult for women compared to men because of the nature of their lives and the multiplicity of their roles in society. 

“The absence of women may have negative consequences because women are half of society. We must recognise today that the way women think and deal with challenges is different from men, take advantage of this, and find ways of empowering women.” 

The obstacles that can prevent women from pursuing careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics were highlighted in the Science Report: Towards 2030, produced by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. It indicated that a lack of awareness about what such careers involve has led to a lack of women leaders in this area, while a scarcity of suitable jobs can also hinder women. 

Anna Malek, a biological science engineer, participated in the 10th Season of Stars of Science and said: “Women have sufficient capabilities to join scientific fields, but society’s acceptance of their involvement in these fields is still not clear yet in the Middle East region, and this may be due to the responsibilities and priorities that women adhere to, as well as some occupational bias in a mixed environment. 

“The percentage of women who work in sciences in the Arab region is high, and therefore we have sufficient capacity to excel in this field. There are many Arab women working in scientific fields in Western countries, and they are successful. Women can excel in this field, as they have the ability to see things from a different point of view. If we neglect their role, then we exclude 50 per cent of human resources and the opportunity to develop a variety of solutions all over the world. 

“A woman should not limit her role as a productive and thoughtful individual. From my personal experience, when I was pregnant, most of the people around me advised me to take leave to take care of my health, but when I knew that I would have a girl, I was excited to work more, to be a good role model for her.” 

Walaa Aniba, from Tunisia, lost a friend in an accident that claimed her life several years ago. She decided to channel her pain into helping others and reducing accidents through her Smart and Safe Headphones, which automatically stop music playing in cars when a risk is detected.

She participated in Season 6 of Stars of Science, and said: “In recent years, we have noticed a significant increase in the percentage of women in various scientific fields.

“Today, the job market is no longer directed only at men, and Arab society’s view of women working in scientific fields has markedly changed in a way. Women are able to be a mother or a housewife and a successful entrepreneur at the same time, and can join various fields – there are no specialisations limited to men only. 

“At first, I had concerns about being in what is a competitive work environment, including for men, but I have continued encouragement and support from my father and brother. Today, I am a successful woman, I have a private company in which both women and men engineers and technologists work, and my message to women is that there is no barrier between them and her ambitions.” 

Female innovator Jenan Al Shehab, who is from Kuwait and was one of the participants in the second season of Stars of Science, faced challenges at the beginning of her career, but was able to overcome them. “We have a lot of female entrepreneurs and business owners in the Arab region, and I don’t believe any obstacle for women to enter the scientific fields exists,” she said.

“Although many challenges may face us as women, by adhering to our dreams and insisting on following them, we can achieve them. At the beginning of my business journey, I noticed that it was almost impossible, as it was very difficult to get a workshop for my own to develop my invention, as it contains many heavy equipment, and when I met a group of consultants they advised me to search for an easier job or home project.

“At the time, I didn’t listen to them, and I continued working on my project and succeeded with the final product, but I felt a real success when the same consultants who had previously declined to work with me wanted to enter into a partnership with me to work on my innovation.

“It is difficult to change the ideas of society in a short period, and it may not be that there is a complete acceptance by society of the presence of women in scientific fields, but today we are witnessing clear change, and this in itself is an encouraging and supportive trend.” 

As seen on Peninsula Qatar  Image Credits Peninsula Qatar