Welcome by Ambassador Leendertse, “Women in Environmental Science: How to foster Participation and Leadership?” - Side Event to the Commission of the Status of Women, March 16th, 2022

16.03.2022 - Speech

Thank you all for being here today for the event of the Bureau members of CSW66. South Africa, Latvia, the Republic of Korea, Argentina and my own country Germany represent our regional groups at this year’s Commission on the Status of women which deals with the empowerment of women and girls in the context of climate change. We are also dedicated UN member states, working towards advancing gender equality at home and internationally.

The world of academia is still an arena in which women have to overcome many barriers in order to be equally involved and included – very much like in diplomacy.

Germany is no exception to this. In 2019, the famous journal “Nature” published an article about Germany falling behind when it comes to diversity in science: only 35% of academic staff at research facilities were women. Only 16% of grant applications submitted to the German Research Funding Society (DFG) came from women. Even if women’s representation among PhD students is still quite strong, figures drop when we look at leadership positions, such as those with tenure track or professorships.

The reasons are manifold and structural. They have to do with the lack of care options for working mothers, unsustainable working conditions with short-term contracts and high expectations to work around the clock, historical patterns of filling positions based on personal relations rather than merit, a publishing system in which male-dominated editor boards make publishing decisions based on who works at which University.

Or as the journal “Nature” put it: “Hurdles can range from a lack of childcare facilities to straight up sexism and discrimination.”

As we all know, women scientists must be equally involved and receive equal opportunities and publishing space if we want to have a chance at tackling the most pressing issues of our times – the climate crisis, disaster risk prevention, emerging infectious diseases.

The German Government has been trying to counteract this for quite some time now, for example, by funding specific programs and awards for women scientists. I hope that these initiatives will bear fruit.

I am therefore very grateful to an impressive group of women scientists who will present today. Among them is Dr. Frauke Muecksch, a virologist from Germany focusing on emerging infectious diseases who has been one of the leading Covid researchers recently. I learned that she has over 60 publications and over 6000 citations. She was the 2021 Bulgari Women & Science fellow in Covid-19 research and will talk about her experience both in the US and in the German system.

When Dr. Gill Biden kept her well-deserved title in front of her name after receiving much backlash for doing so as the First Lady of the United States, women scientists all over the world put their title on their twitter account in solidarity.

It was a demonstration of strength, but also a show case of the discriminatory reflexes that still work in our societies.

Women in academia have been fighting for getting their well-deserved spots and I am delighted that we can learn from their experiences today.

Thank you.

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