Today (March 17) marked the conclusion of the second annual Gro Brundtland Week of Women in Sustainable Development. Five female scientists from developing countries participated in the closing ceremony held at the Tang Prize offices, where they presented their work and proposed future collaborations.
Attendees to the closing ceremony included NCKU President Jenny Su, former Academia Sinica Vice President Wang Yu, Tang Prize Foundation CEO Jenn-Chuan Chern, Academia Sinica Research Fellow Shi-chun Lung, and National Taiwan Normal University Professor Su-hsin Lee.
Four women scientists under the age of 40 from developing countries and one scientist from Taiwan engaged in the field of public health or sustainable development are eligible for the award. This year the recipients, Drs. Fathiah Zakham from Yemen, Farah Fathima from India, Phyllis Awor from Uganda, Wafa Al-Jamal from Jordan, and Yi-Chun Yen from Taiwan, sat and spoke in seminars throughout the week, and across the island of Taiwan.
Coming from countries that have seen setbacks from war, political strife, and traditional gender structures, the women recognized by Gro Brundtland Week addressed the multiple problems facing not only their countries, but also women everywhere. Women are often beset by systematic inequalities in opportunities, pay, and maternity leave. They are also faced with subtler problems which undermine their daily work, such as sexual harassment and discrimination perpetuated by colleagues. Unless governments and institutions take proactive steps to right the imbalance, argued Zakham, women will be forced to fight an uphill battle just to simply obtain a degree or teach in a university.
Awor from Uganda is herself a mother of three, two of which she carried while finishing her master’s and doctorate degrees in university. She counts herself lucky, though, since she had the support of a husband whose flexible job allowed him to look after the children while she studied. Zakham summarized the sentiments of all the panelists in one pithy statement, that no matter what challenges present themselves, “We just keep going.”
The group proposed a collaborative research plan to investigate these various problems. Their proposal included looking at the strategies employed by female researchers to cope with systemic gender issues. Noting also the importance of role models and mentorship, which are severely lacking in the scientific community, Al-Jamal suggested a mentorship program which would act as a bulwark to new female scientists as they embark on their careers in research.
The week is one of many initiatives set off by the “Godmother of Sustainable Development” Gro Harlem Brundtland. Regina Benjamin, former US Surgeon General, opened the week-long event with her talk titled “Making a Difference” on March 12. Su-May Yu from the Academia Sinica questioned the role of food production in a sustainable world on March 13; Kuo-Fong Ma from National Central University, Taiwan, looked at the knowns and unknowns of earthquakes in the session on March 15; and on March 16 Fumiko Kasuga, the Future Earth Global Hub Director in Japan, discussed what roles and challenges the next generation of humanity will be forced to face.
Gro Brundtland Week was established in 2015 after the inaugural Tang Prize laureate in Sustainable Development and namesake of the event, Gro Harlem Brundtland, assigned a portion of the funds from her Tang Prize winnings to support women in the sciences. It is hoped that this event, and more like it, will help foster more women researchers in the fields of sustainability and health.