Making History in Science

Notes to Women congratulate Victoria Kaspi for being the first woman to win the Gerhard Herzberg Gold Medal, Canada’s top Science award in its 25 year history.  This long overdue win is a reminder that gender inequality is prevalent in Canadian Academia.

Mario Pinto, President of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council who hands out the prize, acknowledged that this was a very important moment.  “It signals to girls and young women that Science is exciting and it’s possible to achieve the highest honour.”

It is unfortunate that it has taken this long for a woman to win this prestigious prize but Dr. Pinto believes that the reason for this is women account for only 14 per cent of the scientists who receive funding from the Research Council at the full professor level and only 9 per cent when the life sciences are excluded.

Dr. Kaspi was born in Austin Texas.  She spent her earliest years in the United States and Israel before the family moved to Montreal, her mother’s hometown.  Growing up, Dr. Kaspi did not have a particular interest in space or Astronomy.  She loved hockey and had an avid interest in logic and mathematical puzzles.  Her love for Science came when she was a teenager and took her first course.  She studied Physics at McGill and it was at Princeton University where she became interested in the work of Astrophysicist, Joe Taylor who would later win the Nobel Prize.  Dr. Kaspi worked at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before eventually returning to McGill and Montreal where she feels most at home.

Life is busy for Dr. Kaspi who is raising three children with her husband, cardiologist David Langleben which leaves her little time to do much else.  As a result, she has to work late into the night when she is better able to concentrate on her research.  It would be a tremendous weight off the shoulders of female faculty members if the universities would do more to support them so that they don’t have to choose between their professional success and family life.  When it comes to her research, Dr. Kaspi needs more flexibility. “Research is not a 9-to-5 job.  You get inspired, you have an idea, you’re dying to solve it, and within the confines of all these constraints that are imposed on you, it’s hard.”  At 48, she considers herself lucky that she was not a victim of the overt sexual harassment as a young researcher but is aware of the gender issues on campus.

We share the sentiments of Christine Wilson, a McMaster University Astronomer and President of the Canadian Astronomical Society who praised the selection of Dr. Kaspi as this year’s gold medal winner. “The fact that she is the first woman ever to receive the Herzberg Medal is the icing on the cake for me.”

Let us hope that it will not take another 25 years for another woman to achieve this honour.

 

 

Source:  The Globe and Mail

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Education of Women and Girls

Just recently I read that Sir Thomas More placed great importance on the education of women.  Here’s an exerpt from his biography on Wikipedia:

More took a serious interest in the education of women, an attitude that was highly unusual at the time. Believing women to be just as capable of academic accomplishment as men, More insisted upon giving his daughters the same classical education given to his son.  The academic star of the family was More’s eldest daughter Margaret, who attracted much admiration for her erudition, especially her fluency in Greek and Latin.  More recounted a moment of such admiration in a letter to Margaret in September 1522, when the Bishop of Exeter was shown a letter written by Margaret to More:

When he saw from the signature that it was the letter of a lady, his surprise led him to read it more eagerly… he said he would never have believed it to be your work unless I had assured him of the fact, and he began to praise it in the highest terms… for its pure Latinity, its correctness, its erudition, and its expressions of tender affection. He took out at once from his pocket a portague [A Portuguese gold coin]… to send to you as a pledge and token of his good will towards you.

 

The success More enjoyed in educating his daughters set an example for other noble families. Even Erasmus became much more favourable towards the idea once he witnessed the accomplishments of More’s daughters.

It is wonderful to hear or read about men who don’t have a problem with women being educated.  As a woman I cannot imagine not enjoying the benefits of a good education.  Growing up, I was exposed to great works of literature.  I developed the love for reading and writing since I was a child.  I remember the big red Oxford dictionaries I always consulted whenever I came across a new word.  My parents took pride in sending my sisters and me to good schools so that we could get quality education.

I was touched by Michelle Obama’s story of how hard her father worked so that she and her brother could get a good education.  Michelle attended  Whitney Young High School, Chicago’s first magnet high school, where she was a classmate of Jesse Jackson’s daughter Santita.  She was on the honor roll for four years, took advanced placement classes, a member of the National Honor Society and served as student council treasurer.  She graduated in 1981 as the salutatorian of her class.  Michelle attended Princeton University and Harvard Law School.  Michelle stated in an address to students at a public school in Chile that she and her husband, Barak owe their successes to good education.  She believes that education prepared her for the world.  “Growing up there was never any question in my parents’ mind that we would go to college. … And they always told us that even if we weren’t rich, we were just as smart and just as capable as anyone else. … They thought us that if we dreamed big enough and if we worked hard enough anything was possible.”

What are the benefits of educating women and girls?  Higher rates of high school and university education among women, particularly in developing countries, have helped them make inroads to professional careers and better-paying salaries and wages. Education increases a woman’s (and her partner and the family’s) level of health and health awareness. Furthering women’s levels of education and advanced training also tends to lead to later ages of initiation of sexual activity and first intercourse, later age at first marriage, and later age at first childbirth, as well as an increased likelihood to remain single, have no children, or have no formal marriage and alternatively, have increasing levels of long-term partnerships. It can lead to higher rates of barrier and chemical contraceptive use (and a lower level of sexually transmitted infections among women and their partners and children), and can increase the level of resources available to women who divorce or are in a situation of domestic violence. It has been shown, in addition, to increase women’s communication with their partners and their employers, and to improve rates of civic participation such as voting or the holding of office.   Improving girls’ educational levels has been demonstrated to have clear impacts on the health and economic future of young women, which in turn improves the prospects of their entire community.

When you educate a girl in Africa, everything changes. She’ll be three times less likely to get HIV/AIDS, earn 25 percent more income and have a smaller, healthier family – CAMFED USA

Unfortunately, barriers to education for girls remain.  In some African countries, such as Burkina Faso, girls are unlikely to attend school for such basic reasons as a lack of private latrine facilities for girls.

I have also heard the saying that education is the greatest weapon to fight poverty.  According to Aid For Africa, “when a girl in Africa gets the chance to go to school and stay in school, the cycle of poverty is broken and things change.”  There is nothing more heartbreaking than a girl who wants to become a nurse or a teacher but she can’t because for many poor girls in Africa culture and tradition often keeps them at home while their brothers go to school.

Education can take a woman a long way and open many doors of opportunity.  It gives her a sense of accomplishment and value.  She is not limited.  She can dream big and reach big goals.  Education improves gender equality and empowers girls and women.  Education could mean something as simple as wanting to learn how to write your name.

“ Education is a lifetime inheritance. It is a lifetime insurance.
Education is the key to success, a bus to a brighter future for
all our people. Without education, there is little that a person
can do—actually there is nothing a person can do without an
education. A person is never too old for knowledge; as my people,
the Xhosa, always say, ‘Imfundo ayigugelwa’ (Every day is an
education; you learn something new). We must be knowledge
seekers and we must strive for a better life through education.”
ZUKISWA, AGE 16 (Ubuntu Education Fund) Kwa Magxaki Township, Port Elizabeth, South Africa

For those of us who have access to education, let us be thankful and pass down the importance of learning to our children, especially our daughters.  Let’s remember the women who fought to have the right to education and to vote and all the rights that were once denied to women.  Let us think of the mothers and fathers whose parents could not afford to send them to school or university but they in turn worked hard to provide their children with quality education.  Let us think of the women and girls who live in countries where their education is not valued.  Let us do what we can to help our own children succeed in life or prepare them for the world through education.  And let us see what we can do to help organizations like CAMFED, Aid for Africa, Global Fund for Children to help women and girl to have the quality of life they should have through education.

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.
Nelson Mandela

“You educate a man; you educate a man. You educate a woman; you educate a generation.”
― Brigham Young

“Segregation shaped me; education liberated me.”
― Maya Angelou

“There is no tool for development more effective than the education of girls and women.”Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan

“Give a girl an education and introduce her properly into the world, and ten to one but she has the means of settling well, without further expense to anybody. ”
― Jane Austen

“Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.”
― Malcolm X

“Educate a boy, and you educate an individual. Educate a girl, and you educate a community.
African proverb via Greg Mortensen”
― Greg MortensonThree Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace … One School at a Time

“Knowledge will bring you the opportunity to make a difference.”
― Claire Fagin

“I learned to dream through reading, learned to create dreams through writing, and learned to develop dreamers through teaching. I shall always be a dreamer.”
― Sharon M. Draper

“Education is the movement from darkness to light.”
― Allan Bloom

“Learning is important. It is a way to make a life better for yourself and your family.”
― Rosie ThomasIris And Ruby

Sources:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Morehttp://www.foxnews.com/world/2011/03/21/michelle-obama-education-prepared-world/http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Female_educationhttp://us.camfed.org/site/PageServer?pagename=home_index;  http://www.aidforafrica.org/girls/http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/TOPICS/EXTEDUCATION/0,,contentMDK:20298916~menuPK:617572~pagePK:148956~piPK:216618~theSitePK:282386,00.htmlhttp://www.globalfundforchildren.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/GFC_AnnualReport_2002-03.pdf