On International Day of Women and Girls in Science, let us celebrate all those who have made the field more women-friendly
A group of children from the street was gathered in a pavement dweller centre, waiting to perform a skit they had organized for the visitors at the centre they spend their days in.
Today, they were the star of the show, and their excitement was buzzing throughout the room. As I stood there, admiring a floral decorative element in the room, a doe-eyed girl pointed at it and giggled. “I made this,” she said.
I looked at her — she was a scrawny little girl, biting on the cloth of her sleeve and giggling. When I asked her how she had made this, she told me about how she had gathered some newspaper, got some glue from the people at the centre, and rolled it to resemble a stem and flowers.
I remembered doing the same thing for a project so that I could build a model of a bridge, and when I showed her pictures, she asked me: “Apu, because I know how to make this, do you think I can someday build bridges to help people cross rivers?”
At that moment, I wanted to tell her she could do anything she wanted to do. She could be like Adity Chowdhury, a civil engineer, who helps build bridges and buildings for flood-affected people.
She could be like Syeda Sultana Razia, a chemical engineer who teaches young engineers to create process systems that add layers of safety in process plants, and attends policy briefs to create policy guidelines for safer industrial practices.
She could be like Rushan Afroze, a doctor, who spends her day working in villages in Chandpur, trying to figure out ways to provide holistic healthcare to the extreme poor for free.
She could be like Alifa Bintha Haque, a conservational biologist, who has dedicated her career towards preserving sharks and other marine life in the Bay of Bengal. She could be like Fatema Tuz Johra, who works in charareas to build solar panels on top of boats.
I wanted to tell her all that, and most of all, I wanted to tell her that maybe she will build a bridge by herself. But like many kids living on the street, this little girl might not get the proper education to pursue a career in science and end up as an engineer or architect, someone who could design such a bridge.
And to my dismay, even if she did get the proper education, she might not have gotten the opportunity to pursue a career in science. She would have been told by job posts that “only males are allowed to apply to this position.”
Or that this job is “too technical for a woman” because she wouldn’t be able to withstand long hours like a man could. Because a factory environment or the field is too rough for a woman. Because she wouldn’t be able to balance her work life and family life well.
Despite these barriers, what has changed in the past decade is that young girls have women they can look up to. They have stories of extraordinary women who are working day and night and creating a positive impact on society.
This progress is being made through the many interventions to empower women, and because of organizations creating women-friendly environments.
I spent years working as a researcher, where I found myself to be the only woman in the office. But when I joined SAJIDA Foundation, I got the opportunity to work with a lot of women in different technical fields.
Organizations such as SAJIDA Foundation not only give the opportunities to women in technical fields to contribute their expertise, but also promote women empowerment through providing facilities such as day care centres, flexible work hours, and the opportunity to work from home.
February 11 is International Day of Women and Girls in Science, and on this day, let us acknowledge all the women in STEM fields for their contributions to the technological developments we now enjoy.
Perhaps it’s time for companies, industries, and organizations in Bangladesh to recognize women in technical fields for all the hard work they have done and continue to do by creating a female-friendly work culture.
How else will we inspire young girls to improve the future with the technological advances we need for sustainable development? Only when we give young girls something to look forward to, can we inspire them towards scientific curiosity and build a better tomorrow.
Raida AK Reza works at the SAJIDA Foundation.