Galvanising youth will set optimistic trajectory for women in science, panelists assert at Women’s Pavilion space discussion

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Dr Randa Assad, Associate Professor of Physics at the American University of Sharjah in the UAE

Dubai: Galvanising youth with symbols of women in science, and motivating the next generation to overcome challenges specific to the sector, is crucial to encouraging a female presence in the sciences moving ahead, experts said at a space-focused event at Expo 2020 Dubai’s Women’s Pavilion on Thursday.

“We need to motivate the youth… whenever we talk about the contributions of scientists in the past, we talk about the positive things,” said Dr Randa Assad, Associate Professor of Physics at the American University of Sharjah in the UAE. Assad was one of four female panelists at Women in Arabia and Islam: Space Pioneers of Today Anchored in Arabian and Muslim Past’ – an event co-curated between Louvre Abu Dhabi and the Women’s Pavilion that explored how we can better recognise the role of women from the Arabic and Islamic world, and amplify their positive contributions in space exploration

Assad added: “We also have to focus on the challenges that we face. For the youth especially, being a scientist in astronomy, it’s not necessarily an easy path. There might be difficulties and there might be challenges. But this is normal, it’s part of the journey… we should not give up, but keep up hope and aim for what we can add to this knowledge.”

Fellow panelist Dr Heida Chackroun, Associate Professor in Hydraulic Engineering and Geomatics at Tunisia’s University of Tunis El Manar, cited Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5, which concerns gender quality and empowerment for women and girls – one of 17 SDGs that seeks to create a more dignified, just world by 2030.

“Maybe there is a chance now [through an agreement with the Russian space agency and Tunisia], to train and send a female astronaut to the International Space Station. So, these symbols are very important for young people – to show symbols and to say, ‘Yes, I can. I too can be an astronaut’.”