8 March 2018
On the occasion of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, celebrated annually on 11 February, UNESCO launched a social media campaign #ChooseScience to show young women and girls that they can fully participate in science.On the eve of the International Women's Day, UNESCO Almaty offered women in science to share their stories of building a career in science, to tell about the main challenges they face, and to give advice to young people. We feature some of those stories:
Kristine Tovmasyan, Programme Specialist in Natural Sciences, UNESCO Almaty
I’m responsible for managing UNESCO’s Natural Sciences programme in Central Asia. My daily work focuses on promoting scientific knowledge across the region for sound natural resources management and enhanced environmental sustainability. I hold a PhD in geology and I’m very proud of it, as my expertise in geology in my early scientist’s career allowed me to join UNESCO, when I got embarked immediately in promoting international cooperation through sciences at global level at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris.
Why geology? I think as a kid I knew that I would choose science, and specifically geology, because I was (and still am!) fond of nature and eager to learn. Growing up between the blue Baltic Sea and green forests of Latvia and the hostile mountains of Armenia, I was curious to learn more about nature, environment we live in, the way how our planet is built, and how certain processes in nature occur and why. I adored obsidians – volcanic glass, one can find in Armenia. When outside, I always picked them up and carried full pockets with me, piling up later in boxes at home. When I was a 1-st grade student at school, we were asked to draw ourselves in our future professions. I drew myself with a backpack, hammer in my hand and with mountains on the background. No wonder, I like Almaty and Central Asian mountains so much! And I believe that my choice for geology was not random, and I’m grateful to my parents who supported me in taking this path.
The challenges I faced were quite many. As a student I was very slim and often men didn’t fail to offer their help when we were in field works. That was making me very angry, honestly. But the biggest challenge came some years later, when I had to find ways how to wisely manage my career, PhD studies and the family, in which children were born. Here again, the support of the loved ones was enormous.
I would, first of all, like to invite girls not to be afraid to choose science. Believe me, it is interesting and awarding, all you need to do is to be willing to learn more and not being afraid to challenge yourself. Besides, I wish to call on each and everyone, girls and boys, men and women, to break stereotypes, and overcome biases, which, unfortunately, prevail in our lives, including when we talk about science. Life is short and the right choice in career path can make you happy for your entire life. Take a risk and don’t be afraid to dare!
Zamira Usmanova, Institute of Geography of Kazakhstan, climate scientist
Initially, I did not plan to do science but during my Master's degree I started working in the laboratory of glaciology of the Institute of Geography of Kazakhstan. And then I learned from my personal experience that science is not only interesting but also is very important, because by exploring we are moving forward and developing.
The main challenge that I have faced for the moment in my scientific work is the family. I am often asked if I am married, if I have children. Does it interfere with my work and whether my work affects my family life? To this I would like to say that women can be successful both in family and in science, and there are many great examples of that.
I would like to advise young women and girls who want to do science to move forward to pursue their goals, their dreams and not to be afraid to stay for their views and ideas.
Marlene Kronenberg, University of Fribourg, glaciologist
I always loved to be outside and especially to be in the mountains. Studying geography showed me how interesting it was to understand the processes I observed during my time I spent outdoors. During my Master studies, I decided that I want to study glaciers. Today, I am very happy that I am still investigating glaciers by doing a PhD in Glaciology and field work taking place in Central Asia. The most enthralling thing is that there are always more questions to solve. The more we understand about a glacier, the more follow-up questions arise, which are even more exciting to be answered. To work in science means that it never gets boring. You deal with new questions all the time.
As a woman doing fieldwork I often feel that I have to prove myself when I meet new people. It annoys me that some people do not take me serious and are surprised that girls can walk far distances carrying a heavy backpack. Unfortunately, the idea that some things are appropriate for girls and others are not is still somewhere in many heads. Furthermore, there are still big inequalities between men and women in society in Switzerland as for example regulations regarding parental leave. This makes it more difficult for women to organize their work in science but also elsewhere. I think that this might be one of the reasons, why many girls in Switzerland decide to do a traditional women's job where part-time work and maternity leave are well established. Besides, the wish of doing something "inappropriate" rises questions and puts girls in a defensive position about their decision.
I think the combination of expectations by the society and the unequal regulations for men and women are still a hampering issue for girls to become scientists. Because of this, it is very important to be strong and keep going, even if everybody tells that there are more appropriate things to do for girls. The hardest part might be the missing understanding from close people. This might create doubts about the decision to do science again and again. Girls therefore need a lot of conviction to go on with the dream to become a scientist. Therefore, it is important to be enough self-confident to break with established traditions. The best is to have other girls and women around with comparable dreams. The exchange with others can provide the necessary conviction and energy. As women in science we should try to connect to others and keep going!
Anara Tleulesova, hydrogeologist, expert on water resources management in Kazakhstan
In principle, I did not set myself the goal of doing science. During my studies I had an interesting internship in the field of mining hydrogeology. During the internship, I collected a very good material for my course work, and then my teacher invited me to write a scientific article. After a while, I got a job, and in 1984 I was sent to training course in Tashkent. There, my graduate work written on the results of the training course was noted by a professor, who asked to leave it for practical use in Uzbekistan. After that, I returned to Almaty and continued to write scientific articles. That is how I unintentionally came to science.
In my opinion, there are no serious challenges for women in science in Kazakhstan: the door is open for those who want to work. The gender policy is working well in Kazakhstan. If a woman wants to work, no one will hinder her. I learnt it from my own experience when, working at public service, I myself passed the way from the head of department to the Chief of Balkhash-Alakol basin inspection. The issue is that there are still stereotypes in the minds of women themselves who think that some professions are only for male.
My advice to any young specialist is to practice because theory alone will not give anything. Especially in today's changing environment, when all theoretical research must be tested in practice. I would also advise to write scientific papers and articles.
Viktoriya Il’ina, Member of the Kazakhstan National Committee of the UNESCO “Man and the Biosphere” Programme, Lawyer
During my school years I wanted to do something useful and interesting. Growing up, I was aware of this need more clearly. One of the most difficult stages in my life was the moment of choosing a profession. It was important to properly assess my own abilities. So, I chose law. While studying, I was constantly asking myself what can be done in order to improve and develop legal science. The search for answers to these questions made me to engage in scientific research. As a legal practitioner, I have the opportunity to analyze the most relevant issues of jurisprudence. I believe that theory and practice are inextricably linked, but it is impossible to walk in circles. It is vital to reach a qualitatively new level, to work on improving the existing developments and create new ones.
When a woman chooses the career in science, she challenges herself in the first place. After all, the career of a woman-scientist is an interesting and thorny way of constant work on yourself, striving for self-development and finding a balance between career and other aspects of life. Harmony with yourself and the world around us is an important component of a woman's success, the existence of which makes it possible to solve the most difficult tasks and achieve truly outstanding results.
Today women and girls have access to education and realize their potential in science. To my mind, this issue should not be perceived as a race with men for the championship. Rather, it is cooperation and desire to contribute to the development of humanity. The possibilities of women in modern society have significantly expanded. Having willingness and due perseverance, a woman may achieve significant results that will lead do respect and recognition at the highest level. Many dialogue platforms have been created for women, which provide an opportunity to exchange views and develop constructive proposals for further cooperation and development. The young researchers are actively involved, which contributes to the continuity of generations. Women have the opportunity to consolidate in order to achieve sustainable development, which is undoubtedly a significant achievement itself.
On the eve of the International Women's Day, I would like to congratulate all those women who devoted their lives to science and those who are just beginning this long but interesting and exciting journey!
Tell us your story and become a part of the #ChooseScience global campaign. While receiving new stories, we will share those on our website. Send us your photos and stories at firstname.lastname@example.org.
UNESCO Almaty Office takes this opportunity to congratulate all women and girls on the International Women's Day!