The future of Science looks promising in the hands of both sexes. Today, women in many countries outnumber men in universities especially the biological sciences while men retain their lead in engineering, mathematics, and computing. The Western world’s boast of sexual equality in science is led by Estonia, Canada, Finland, USA, and Germany where from 50 to 44% of scientists are women, yet falling behind 12 Muslim countries led by Bahrain, Brunei, Lebanon, Qatar, Turkey, and Morocco, that our media seldom mentions. Fourteen countries have more female than male science PhDs: Lithuania, Thailand, Mongolia, Argentina, Krygyzstan, Ukraine, Finland, New Zealand, Estonia, Italy, Croatia, Macedonia, Israel, and Australia. Women are 10% of scientists in Japan but 60% of Japanese scientists working abroad. Shamefully, we have none among the 1.3 billion in the poorest countries where girls are saddled with an unfair share of household chores like walking 2 miles daily to fetch water.
Perhaps I should start at home. I have no sons for comparison but my daughters have all enjoyed science careers. The eldest is a retired science teacher and remains an expert on horse anatomy, the second headed an addiction ward, the third specialized in cosmetic chemistry, the fourth worked in wildlife in Canada, Sweden, and the USA, was the first woman in Sweden to earn a master’s degree in wildlife, and is currently working with wind farms in the USA to reduce bird kill, the 5th is also in wildlife having published, with her husband, a definitive study on cougars.
Over the years how have women fared in science in what has too-often been a male-dominated world?
Elaine Morgan in Wales in 1972 published “The Descent of Woman” arguing it was women who led us humans in losing our body hair by bathing, nursing, and collecting food in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean that lapped the shores of East Africa, then led in our conversion from hunting and gathering into farming. Subsequent warfare ushered in male dominance. In the UK in 1976 Merlin Stone published her book “When God Was a Woman” that covered the thousands of years in which female gods ruled us until some 3,500 years ago when Abraham of Ur, Iraq, and his entourage got control of one of those wandering Semitic tribes and gradually down-graded feminism to give us Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, all of which claimed to protect females yet dominated them. Goddess Ashtoreth and her snake, a symbol of wisdom, was downgraded to Eve.
Moving on, was not Merit-Ptah the first recorded (remembering that men have dominated our media) female scientist who, some 5,000 years ago was just one of several Egyptian women who were physicians? At least, since 3,300 years ago, Greece also had female physicians. And, of course, Greece had Aglaonike, an astronomer, who with Pythagorus (570-495 BC) founded their school in Crotone, Italy, where one of his students was his wife, Theano. About 3,250 years ago Babylon women devised equipment to produce perfumes from plants and became our first chemists - or was it the Egyptian women who earlier made beer? A thousand years later Alexandria, Egypt, was the home of scores of female scientists, including the famed Hypatia who was tortured and murdered by Christian men in 415 AD.
After the fall of Rome the Christian Church assumed the role of keeping society controlled. Science and women did not fare well. The Arab world preserved knowledge until our renaissance. For learning, women found refuge in convents but nunneries were soon banned by the male-dominated clergy. The first university to accept women was the one in Bologna, Italy, in 1088. Dorotea Bucca held a chair in medicine and philosophy there, 1390-1430. Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) wrote “Women are incapable of authority.” Between 1670 and 1710 women were 14% of Germany’s astronomers but were denied university education,
As I type this, I have the biographies of over 150 famed woman scientists, including 23 Africa-Americans and 20 Muslim. Selecting the few that will fit into this blog is not easy. Here are 8 Muslims and 14 Others:
Lubna of Cordoba (died 984 AD) was a Spanish slave girl who became a renowned mathematician in charge of a library of 500,000 books at the Umayyad palace.
Queen of Yemen, Al-Malika al-Hurra Arwa al-Sulayhi (died 1138 AD) was well versed in science, religions, poetry, and history.
Razia Sultan, while ruling the sultanate of Delhi, established schools and libraries across India. She was murdered in 1240 by male nobles who objected to a female overlord.
Dr. Sameera Moussa, born 1917 in Egypt, died in California 1952, specialized in making the medical uses of atomic technology affordable to all.
Professor Rana Dajani, of Jordan. A molecular biologist, she is rated 13th among the hundred most influential women in the Muslim world.
Professor Rabia Hussain, of the Aga Khan University in Karachi, earned her PhD in immunology at the University of Western Ontario in 1973. The World Academy of Sciences elected her as vice president for Central and South Asia. She won the Berson-Yallow award from the American Society of Nuclear Medicine.
Dr. Ismahane Elouafi has a PhD in genetics from Cordova, Spain. She has held executive positions in Canada and Japan and has been granted many international awards including one from the King of Morocco.
Prof. Datin Paduka/Dr. Hatijah Mohamad Yusoff of Malaysia was educated in Australia and the UK to post-doctoral levels in Genetics and molecular analysis. Noted for her work in the UK, Kenya, and Ethiopia.
Lise Meitner, 1878-1968, denied higher education in Austria, she pursued nuclear physics for 25 years to become Germany’s first female physics professor. Although co-discovering nuclear fission with Otto Hahn only he got the Nobel prize.
Marie Currie, 1867-1934, born Maria Sklodowska in Warsaw, married Pierre Curie and worked in France. Discovered radium and polonium, won two Nobel prizes in physics and chemistry for her work on radiation.
Hedy Lamarr,1914-2000: Known more for being a beautiful Austrian film star, Hedy, born Hedwig Kiesler, fled Nazi Germany, after a brief film career there, for the USA. Along with George Anthiel she developed for the Allies in WWII an unbreakable wireless code with a technology that made the likes of cell phones and fax machines possible. It was not until 1997 that her scientific achievements were recognized with awards.
Rachel Carson, 1907-1964, published in 1962 “Silent Spring” rated by Discover magazine as one of the 25 greatest science books ever. She endured fierce opposition from the chemical industry but achieved some restrictions on the use of pesticides and aerial spraying harmful to both humans and wildlife.
Chien-Shiung Wu, 1912-1997, Princeton’s first female instructor. Considered the leading experimental physicist of her time.
Ursula Franklin, 1921 - , Earned a PhD in Berlin in experimental physics, moved to University of Toronto. Tireless pacifist, feminist, human rights advocate, her work on nuclear blast fallout led to the world ban on atmospheric weapons testing.
Valentina Tereshkova, 1937- , the first woman in space, on 16 June 1963 piloted Vostok 6 through 48 orbits in 71 hours. As of November 2014, 59 women from 10 countries have flown in space, including Mae Jeminson, who in 1992 was first the female African-American to do so.
Sandra Faber, 1944 - ). Led the team that corrected the fuzziness of Hubble telecope, giving us the most stunning space photographs.
Lene Hau, 1959 - , Danish physicist now at Harvard, slowed the speed of light to a stop in 2001 with important implications to quantum cryptology.
Elena Chapochnikova, 1986- , an accelerator physicist was one of 80,000 talented scientists lost to Russia with the breakup of the USSR. She fled to Switzerland and now works at CERN.
CERN (The European Organization for Nuclear Research) employed no female scientists when it was founded in 1954 by 12 European nations. Today female scientist comprise 21% of the staff. The current director (the 16th since 1954 and first woman) is Italian Fabiola Gianotti. In Silicon Valley, California: 30% of the work force is female. The Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, Waterloo, Ontario (PI), founded in 1999, has 4 women among its 25 permanent faculty or 16%. Cambridge, UK, has 14%, MIT, USA, has 10%. PI conducts annual conferences on “Inspiring Future Women in Science”. In April of this year Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a surprise visit to a group of 200 girls attending this year’s conference, encouraging them while announcing another $50 million grant to the institute.
Asimina Arvanitaki, a graduate of Athens and Stanford universities, joined PI in 2014, being granted a research chair in theoretical physics there thanks to a new $8 million partnership grant between the Stavros Niarchus Foundation and Perimeter Institute. Her research includes testing theories beyond the Standard Model, supersymmetry, dark matter, and extra dimensions. She calls PI intoxicating with its freedom to explore.
Eleonare Trefftz who studied Physics in Dresden during WWII became the first female director of the Max Planck Institute of Physics in 1972. Aachen University details 47 female world leaders in high energy physics.
Hopefully, soon there will be no need to detail scientists by sex, nationality, or religion.