The significant gap between the genders in the fields of science and technology has been present for many years, but situation in recent years has started to improve, at least in North Macedonia.
The International Day of Women and Girls in Science is celebrated on the 11th of February since it was first established in 2015 by the United Nations to promote the equal access and participation of women and girls in science and technology. This day serves as a reminder that women and girls play a key role in scientific and technology communities and that their participation has to be augmented.
By recognizing the role of women and girls in science, not only as its beneficiaries, but also as agents of change, this year, the 7th International Day of women and girls at the UN’s Scientific Assembly focuses on the subject of “Equality, diversity, and inclusion; the water unites us all,” discussing the water’s role in the achievement of the three pillars of sustainable development – economic prosperity, social justice, and environmental integrity.
Women scientists with shorter and less paid careers
According to UN data, only one-third i.e. 33,3% of the scientists worldwide and only 12% of the members of national sciencec academies are women.
“Women are typically given smaller research grants than their male colleagues, and they tend to have shorter and less well-paid careers. Their work is underrepresented in high-profile journals and they are often passed over for promotion,” the UN report states.
According to UNESCO data for 2019, Macedonia is the leader in Europe according to the share of women-researchers out of the total number of researchers in the country. More than a half i.e. 52,3% of all researchers in the country are women.
Today is the International Day of Women and Girls in Science and I mapped the % of female researchers in Europe, according to UNESCO data. #women #science #womenintech #rstats #maps #dataviz #DataScience #WomenInScience pic.twitter.com/wr4dSKz8Q6
— Milos Popovic (@milos_agathon) February 11, 2022
The numbers in our country show equality, the prejudices are decreasing
Out of 35 regular and associate members of the Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts (MANU), only 5 are women, which is around 14% of MANU’s total membership.
On the other hand, the latest data from the State Statistical Office for 2020, shows women’s minor dominance regarding completed studies from the first, second, and third cycle of the country’s higher education curricula.
Out of the total number of graduated students in 2020, 59,5% are women. The participation of women with Master’s degree out of the total number of persons who have got Master’s degree in sciences for the same year was a little above 58%.
More than a half i.e. almost 57% of the persons who have defended their Ph.D. dissertation in 2020 were also women.
The prejudices against women in science, in our country, but also in Europe, are a thing of the past, thinks Milka Ljoncheva, a PhD. student at the Eco Technologies Program at the International Post-Graduate School “Jozef Stefan Institute” in Ljubljana, Slovenia.
Ljoncheva is a pharmacology MSc, having completed her studies from the first and second cycle at the Pharmacology Faculty at the Sts Cyril and Methodius University in Skopje. Her research is on development and validation of methods of identification and quantification of new organic polluters. The longtime presence of these polluters in the environment has a negative effect on the plant and the animal worlds in the flowing waters, and they influence the safety and quality of drinking water and industrial use water.
“The new era of globalization and digitization is allowing a quick migration of information and people, which results in widening the views and abandoning the last-century paradigm that women should be working from 8 AM to 4 PM, to be at home constantly, and during the day they should be taking care of their families and households. Gender equality is present in most of the segments of the social life, so I consider it to be present in sciences as well. Every woman and girl that is working in science is aware of the expected challenges, the influence of the chosen career path on their private lives and it is real art to adjust the private and professional lives on a daily basis. It is hard, but it is fun and it’s not impossible,” Ljoncheva said.
The desire and the motivation to work in scientific research were instilled in her during her undergraduate studies. Ljoncheva admits that she was always attracted by the natural sciences, so she says that she knew she will be wearing a white coat.
According to her, women in science are still a target of prejudices in certain circles but says that these prejudices are an additional motivation for achieving even greater successes in the profession.
“Truth be told, during the integrated studies from the first and second cycle and the PhD studies, I had an opportunity to work with several researchers and female PhD students, maybe because the pharmacology and the chemical sciences have somehow carried the flare of science area that is strongly preferred by the female gender. We have often discussed the subject of prejudice toward women in science and we have determined that sometimes we are still a target to the same certain societal prejudices, where the girls and women who are taking brave professional decisions are seen as “divergent,” “different” and “peculiar.” But, we certainly are targets for praise for the same choices. In the end, what matters is that praises and prejudices motivate us for future successes,” concludes Ljoncheva.
Angela Najdoska, who has a Master’s degree in the area of renewable sources of energy, also agrees that there is a very small and insignificant gap between genders regarding the scientific research in the country. At the moment, Najdoska has enrolled in the third cycle of studies at the Faculty of Electrical Science and Information Technology (FEIT) in Skopje, and she also works for a company as a designer of photovoltaic power plants.
“I sincerely don’t consider that we as women in science are discriminated and I would rather say that we are more discriminated in the field of engineering as a job position. I’m not talking about myself specifically, but in general. I would also stress that at my faculty, to my experience, the women are equally treated when it comes to research,” Najdoska says.
Since a young age, Najdoska has started with research in natural sciences i.e. biology. Her research was directed toward ecology and preserving theenvironment. During secondary school, she got acquainted with the fascinating discoveries in physics. Since she enrolled at FEIT until today she has been researching the area of renewable sources of energy, with the focus on solar energy.
Truth be told, neither Ljoncheva has found herself in a situation where her effort and work were underestimated only because she is a woman.
“An interesting fact that I would like to share with you is that in my work so far, I gained an experience about the differences in the ways of working between male and female researchers and analysts. While the male researchers are more rational, more practical with a straightforward approach, women are more thorough, careful about the tiniest details, curious about all aspects of their task. It is especially interesting when we are complementing each other during brainstorming meetings, says Milka Ljoncheva.
How much is invested in science?
Unfortunately, in the past few years, we were witnessing insufficient investments in science, says Ljoncheva, adding that the annual budget for scientific research should be increased. In North Macedonia there are many young people with wonderful ideas, and unfortunately, just because of the lack of financial support, they are leaving to pursue education abroad or are diverting their career plans.
“In 2021, MKD 17.3 million were allocated for financing scientific research projects of special and public interest for the development and support of laboratory resources in scientific and high education institutions in North Macedonia. The realization of these has already started. I sincerely hope that this trend will continue in the future and by taking as an example the European countries, the annual budget for financing scientific research will be gradually increased. What is missing is a fund for individual scholarships for Ph.D. studies in the country and abroad, including more information and transparency in the process of instigating the scientific community during applications and participation in international projects,” Ljoncheva said.
Najdoska also agrees that we need more money from the state budget. She says that the young people in North Macedonia, regardless of gender, have knowledge that can be promoted to the world scientific stage.
“There will be a future if we make it happen. If we are only writing and stating the lack of proper conditions for researching, nothing will change. Investing in science will improve everyone’s lives, the education of young people will be increased, the young people will leave college with greater expertise in their given fields and will be hired by companies that will have more benefits, and this way, the economy in the state will grow as well,” Najdoska said.
Even though abroad is better and there are better working conditions, she plans to remain and research at home.
“I believe that before we move out of the country, we should do something first here,” Najdoska concludes.