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International Woman's Day

March 10 2014 , Written by Wing-Fai Thi

Last Saturday was the International Woman's Day. Having such a day is symptomatic that something has to change in our societies but that at the same time it means that we are aware of the problem. Everyday should be the day of the woman. Everyday we (the men) should respect them, their work, their opinions, their ideas; everywhere, at work, in the street, at home. The contributions of women to the advances in many fields such as politics, sciences, arts, or economics have often been overlooked, including sadly in Astrophysics (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jocelyn_Bell_Burnell).


All studies agree, girls are better at school than boys in all subjects. At the same age, the girls are more focused, more mature than the boys. Yet at the University stage, women are a minority in subjects usually associated with men like engineering. How comes that? The obvious answer is social-pressure. Paradoxically, the social-pressure for girls to give up some studies for others is often exercised not only by the men (the fathers) but also by the women (the mothers).

After the PhD, the academic system requires a researcher to spend a couple of years in institutes others than where she earned hers. The institutes are often in foreign countries. Those years are already hard enough for many men and their partner but is often even more difficult for women. For others those years open up new opportunities. The system is akin to economics immigration with the main difference is that many hope to find a permanent position back in their home country. When I speak to my (brilliant) female colleagues and friends, I realize the huddles they have to overcome to stay working in academia.

As I already mentioned in a previous blog (positive discrimination), it is up to every man to foster even more the contributions from women by being proactive in helping their wife, partner, daughter(s), or just let aside the gender (and other physical or cultural differences) while considering the work of someone. It would probably take one or two generations before we have a better consideration of the contributions of half of the humanity to all of us if parents start to teach their boys and girls that everyone should be given equal opportunities in developing their skills and talents. In France it has been recently introduced at school classes on that exact point to prevent the stereotypes to develop at a young age. These classes have attracted many (violent) oppositions from groups of conservative individuals. In academia, things are moving towards the right direction albeit maybe not as fast as it should be but there are still a lot of works for the rest of the society.

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