In the Words of Duha Shellah “Male-Dominated Science Can Leave Many Behind.”
Story originally published on UN Women Palestine‘s website.
Duha Shellah, 26 years old, is a Palestinian young doctor and medical journalist. She is the founder & CEO of the Researchist, a research community working to increase youth and women’s representation in research and science. In 2022, Duha was recognized as one of the world’s 21 outstanding young physicians by the Inter-Academy Partnership in Berlin, Germany. She is also an Eastern Mediterranean Region Delegate at World Federation of Public Health Associations (Young Council). Additionally, Duha is a coordinator at the Medical & Health Sciences division of the Palestine Academy for Science and Technology. Among other things, Duha is the Student Editor-in-Chief and Ambassador at the International Journal of Medical Students. In 2023, Duha joined UN Women’s Youth Gender Innovation Agora Forum. Established in 2020, the forum is made up of civil society professionals, young activists, and advocacy and social media influencers to support youth representatives in developing innovative gender equality solutions and engaging with a broader range of stakeholders. Agora members provide expertise on youth and gender issues, design innovative solutions and campaigns, encourage the mobilization of young people and facilitate the dissemination of information to networks and organizations around the region.
Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields are essential to overcome some of the biggest challenges of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and create more inclusive and sustainable societies. From combating climate change to achieving gender equality, STEM can provide the knowledge and tools necessary to create inclusive and sustainable societies.
But across the world, girls remain less likely than boys to study STEM, and Palestine is no exception. This is not always a matter of choice or lack of interest. It is often due to gender stereotypes and roles that societies ascribe to women, preventing many from pursuing studies in what has been dubbed the “sector of the future.” Many families in Palestine invest less in women’s education in general and in STEM fields in particular. There is a social perception that STEM fields are naturally more suited to the “male mind.”
While Palestinian women and girls share many of the challenges that their peers elsewhere face in accessing STEM spaces, they must also contend with additional sociopolitical challenges stemming from the occupation and harmful social norms and traditions.
Even after completing their STEM education, Palestinian women continue to face gender-based prejudices, impacting their chances of getting hired, credited for their work or prompted. Young female scientists are doubly discriminated against based on their gender and age. Older women scientist leaders are often taken less seriously than their male peers.
In general, male researchers and scientists get invited more often to talk at conferences and fora, which in turn results in greater public recognition and compensation at work. This makes it easier for them to assume more leadership positions, depriving many young female scientists from role models and mentorship opportunities. In fact, only 3 per cent of science-related Nobel Prizes have been awarded to women.
Apart from striving to be seen and heard, female scientists often have to joggle household chores and work tasks, making it harder for them to advance in their careers. Men rarely have to strike that balance.
I have always been passionate about science and always wanted to be a scientist. To do that, I had to overcome societal biases, including underestimation by peers and supervisors. I had to impose myself, always showing up in meetings and conferences to be seen and heard. Now I am helping other young women scientists to access STEM research and decision-making spaces. Not only is this important for their career development, but also for that of science and research.
Women make up half of the population, and so their perspectives should be represented equally and fairly in all fields of science. Male-dominated science cannot adequately address the needs and aspirations of our world’s entire population. Giving women equal opportunity to develop and thrive in STEM careers can help tackle harmful gender stereotypes, improves women’s economic security, ensures a diverse and talented workforce and produce knowledge and innovation for all. We need to keep advocating for inclusive policies, highlight success stories of women in STEM and create networks among women in science in order to ensure equal opportunities for all.
STEM research and innovation has increasingly shaped the way we live our lives. But to make advances that leave no one behind, STEM needs to be more inclusive.”