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PHL needs more women in science, reports show

Women account for less than thirty percent of the world’s science researchers, according to current data from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS). 

Many countries still have a long way to go in achieving gender parity, as one in every five countries has achieved this feat, said the UIS report.

Gender parity is defined by the European Institute for Gender Equality as the ratio of female to male values for a given indicator. Conversely, sex ratio is the term that measures the ratio of male to female values for a given indicator. 

While gender parity in science research has been achieved in the Philippines — there is an equal amount of female to male researchers, with more females enrolling in tertiary-level research courses —the number does not automatically translate to more women researchers who are pursuing careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

“More women are enrolling in university, [but] relatively few pursue careers in research. There are many leaks in the pipeline – from stereotypes encountered by girls to the family-caring responsibilities and bias women may face when choosing a career,” the UIS reported.

Based on the 2017 Gender Gap Report of the World Economic Forum, the Philippines is ranked the 10th out of 144 countries, with a 79 percent overall gender gap closed. The report ranked the different countries in four dimensions, namely:

  • economic participation
  • education
  • health and survival
  • and political empowerment. 

It's a good number, especially when compared to other countries, but Bea Agarao, the National Program Coordinator of UNESCO Jakarta, said the Philippines actually dipped from previous years.

“According to the 2016 Gender Gap report WEF, the Philippines was ranked the 7th in the world. Now we're at the 10th place. The discrepancy came from economic participation, where wage equality came into consideration. From 2016-2017, our wage equality slipped from 7th to 21st place. It’s because the estimated income for women is lower than [that of] men,” Agarao said.

In the field of STEM, the Philippines can do better. The 2015 UNESCO Report showed that the Philippines had a high number of women in the medical sciences, but it also showed that there was a lack of women in the engineering field.

According to the report, the Philippines had the lowest number of full-time equivalent researchers (FTE’s) in Southeast Asia at 78 million per population.

There are only 189 researchers for one million Filipinos. The norm, according to Agarao, is 380 researchers per million.

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“Investment on higher education and SciTech innovation is also low because the Philippines invests less than 0.5 percent in it. This is lower than the 1 percent benchmark that UNESCO has set,” Agarao said.

To level the playing field for women who wish to pursue STEM careers, programs such as the global L’Oreal-UNESCO For Women in Science (FWIS) aims to increase the number of women in science research.

The L’Oreal UNESCO FWIS is a global program first launched in the Philippines in 2011. It awards female scientists in four different categories:

  • the Global Laureates,
  • the International Rising Talents,
  • National Fellowships
  • and For Girls in Science

“What is very unique about the FWIS is that we’re trying to address all women at all levels of their scientific careers,” Carmel Valencia, the Corporate Communications head of L’Oreal Philippines, said.

L’Oreal-UNESCO has already awarded five Filipina scientists, including marine scientist Dr. Aletta Yniguez, forensic DNA scientist Dr. Maria Corazon de Ungria, molecular biologist Dr. Maria Cecilia Conaco, biochemist Dr. Lourdes Cruz, and oceanographer Dr. Laura David.

This year, a Filipina scientist will be named as the 2018 L’Oreal-UNESCO FWIS National fellow. She will be receiving a P400,000 research grant during the Grand Awarding Ceremony on June 5.

According to Valencia, L’Oreal and UNESCO did not play any part in the selection process of the National fellow. “It is done by a jury of Filipino women scientists, without the intervention of L’Oreal or UNESCO. The Philippine jury was appointed by the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST), and these women scientists specialize in different fields,” Valencia said.

To qualify as a national fellow, one must be a Filipina citizen between the ages of 21-41, be recognized for her personal scientific excellence in the local community, and must be willing to conduct her proposed research in the Philippines. — LA, GMA News

Tags: scientists