10 February 2017 - Science and gender equality are both vital for the achievement of the internationally agreed development goals within the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Over the past 15 years, the global community has made a lot of effort in inspiring and engaging women and girls in science. Unfortunately, they continue to be excluded from participating fully in scientific fields. As part of raising awareness on this issue, the United Nations General Assembly declared 11 February as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science.
Within UNODC's scientific and forensic work - which is aimed at supporting Member States, and provided from its laboratory in Vienna - women scientists lead key efforts on the Office's relevant mandates. UNODC's scientific and forensic services include delivering guidance through best practice manuals, training and testing, thus contributing to the worldwide availability of quality forensic services. Its quality assurance programme raises the standard of forensic laboratories around the world, and its field test kits enable even the most remote outposts to detect illegal drugs and precursors.
To mark the International Day, Angela Me, Chief of UNODC's Research and Trend Analysis Branch, and Iphigenia Nadis, Scientific Affairs Officer in UNODC's Laboratory and Scientific Section, spoke about their own experiences and career challenges.
Question: What were some of the challenges you encountered, as a woman, when pursuing a scientific education?
Angela Me: I guess my first challenge since I was born was that my family and also my teachers did not expect me to go on a field where it was full of boys. So, for example, regarding going to a technical school that prepared engineers and where I would have liked to go, they would all discourage me because it was supposed to be a job for men - even if I felt that I was good at that. I was good at science, I was good at math so, with determination, I still pursued a career in science.
Iphigenia Nadis: Actually, I did not have really big challenges in pursuing my studies of pharmacy. Through the whole studying period there were many women and girls studying this subject, and it was somehow accepted in this field that girls and women could make a great contribution.
Q: How did you get motivation or inspiration to pursue or continue your studies?
AM: The inspiration was to see the few women that had made it, the few women that I could see receiving Nobel prizes in medicine or in physics. Since I was very young I was also determined to break the stereotype of women 'staying at home', so I took the challenge to show everyone around me that I could also make it.
IN: I think that science doesn't have a gender. Brains are equal and there are skills and opportunities for everyone with the interest and who wish to study or work in different scientific areas. Since I like chemistry, my motivation was to use this interest towards people and pharmacy, so it was the right combination. I have never regretted to have studied in this field.
Q: What advice would you give to girls who are good at math, engineering or other scientific subjects on how they can pursue a scientific career, and on the challenges they can expect?
AM: First of all, don't look at what others expect from you but focus on what you think you are good at. The path may be difficult sometimes but think that if you really pursue what you're good at you will succeed.
IN: If girls wish to have experience on and pursue studies in science they have to do it regardless of whether their surroundings are positive or negative about their wishes. Girls are equal to boys, they have the same skills, and they have to take the opportunities in response to their own wishes and interests. Of course, it is evident that there are challenges for women to be accepted as equal contributors to scientific fields. But it is also evident that there has been big developments on this over the last thirty years or so, with more and more recognition of - and rewarding for - the skills and the contributions of women to science.