March 8, 2024

International Women’s Day: Celebrating past achievements and committing to future goals  

As we celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8th, it’s a perfect opportunity to reflect on the contributions women have made to the world of science, and to commit to the work we have ahead to open up new paths for their talent to grow. From groundbreaking scientific discoveries to profound insights in various fields, women researchers have been instrumental in shaping the course of human progress despite facing numerous obstacles. 

Take, for instance, the contributions of Rosalind Franklin in the field of DNA, or the achievements of Ada Lovelace in computer programming. Needless to mention the work of Marie Curie, whose research on radioactivity earned her two Nobel Prizes and laid the foundation for modern nuclear physics. 

Making sure women can access and grow in academia is important for a more just academic environment in which relevant research questions are asked and in which there are important female role models for our students. And that is not regardless of their gender, it is because of their gender. 
Prof. Rianne Letschert, President of t Maastricht University.

Nonetheless, while we celebrate the progress that has been made this far, it’s essential to acknowledge that there is still much work to be done to truly achieve gender equality in research. Women remain underrepresented in many STEM fields, leadership positions, and decision-making roles within the research ecosystem.   

The biggest threat to gender equality is the myth that we have already achieved it. And for this reason, we are committed to constantly reflecting on our structures, processes, attitudes and biases until we have achieved parity!
Prof. Katharina Holzinger, Rector of the University of Konstanz.

Conscious of these systemic difficulties, YERUN and its experts on gender equality are following and contributing to the advancements of ERA Action 5 on gender equality and inclusiveness.  

Each year International Women’s Day is an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women, take stock of progress – and challenge ourselves to go further and faster in addressing under-representation by gender, reducing the gender pay gap and confronting and eradicating misogyny, harassment and sexual violence against women. YERUN provides a unique group of partners who we can work with to effect this change. The trust we have built, encourages open and honest conversations, offers us a channel for sharing information and a sense of shared responsibility for tackling the challenges we already know about, and those that are yet to come. This year’s theme of ‘invest in women: accelerate progress’ could not be more relevant to the challenges we face in creating a fairer and more equal world. 
Prof. Anthony Forster, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Essex.

Speaking to its outcomes, the subgroup working on this Action has recently collected experts input on a Strategy for a Zero-Tolerance Code of Conduct to counteract gender-based violence, including sexual harassment, in the EU Research and Innovation System. While the Strategy is a big step in the right direction, YERUN experts emphasise that it will also require significant support and involvement at national and institutional levels. At the same time, even if Council recommendations will stem from the Strategy, YERUN underlines the need to work with institutions to ensure resources are correctly used and commitments do not end in mere declarations.  

Higher education has been critical in tackling gender inequality through research and teaching.  Now is not a time to pause. Despite our progress in tackling inequalities, we should acknowledge more work is needed to address gender inequality, and commit to this through plans to embed organisational cultures that will create an inclusive experience for all.
Prof. Sir Gerry McCormac, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Stirling

YERUN further supports and welcomes the creation of two key Task Forces for the Action: (1) on defining principles for the integration and evaluation of the gender dimension in R&I content, and (2) on Gender mainstreaming

In addition to the efforts at policy level, YERUN members have also united forces in several projects in order to implement change. These projects include the recently concluded SPEAR and UniSAFE, and the ongoing GenderActionPlus,  and its sister project, INSPIRE.   

University of South-Eastern Norway is committed to actively promoting equal career opportunities for women and men while fostering greater diversity. We pride ourselves on our favorable gender composition in academic positions, with over half of our female employees occupying such roles, and the proportion of female professors steadily rising to 37% in 2024. Notably, the representation of women in higher education in Norway is high, with female new students accounting for 58% at USN in 2023. I am delighted by the significant number of women choosing to pursue their studies at our university, and I am dedicated to achieving a more balanced gender representation in education. Striving for representation across all fields in the workforce, USN is actively working to address gender imbalances in programs with particularly skewed distributions. For instance, we’ve seen a notable increase in the percentage of men enrolling in the Faculty of Health and Social Sciences, with a record number of men opting to study nursing. In the academic year 2023/24, there are 190 male nursing students at USN, constituting 13.4% of the total, marking a 40-student increase since 2018.
Prof. Pia Cecilie Bing-Jonsson, Rector of the University of South-Eastern Norway.

Today, during the International Women’s Day, let us recommit to creating a more inclusive and equitable research community.  

The vision of the University of Cyprus is to create a fair, safe and pleasant environment, where all students and staff members, within and beyond their multiple identities and nationalities, will be feeling supported, both in their professional and personal development. What is required today is evidence that institutions are determined to empower women of all ages and backgrounds in order to reach their full potential. It is true that there is will, but more determination and further actions are required for bringing women, and especially underprivileged women to the spotlight. Codes of conduct and a gender equality plan are essential guidelines towards the pursuit of equality but more “tangible” efforts are required to achieve women empowerment and especially empowerment of women with immigration history and background. For achieving positive impactful change, it is important to be honest and transparent. As a public university there are limitations in terms of the procedures and laws in place for admission of students and election of academic staff. For the glass ceiling to break, we must propose new ways of operation which require courageous changes internally and also the support of the government. While celebrating women, we celebrate humanity, and the contribution of women in bettering our world; this celebration extends beyond acknowledging their daily impact on society; it also honors women’s persistence and fight for equality.
Prof. Tasos Christofides, Rector of the University of Cyprus.

So, here’s to the past, present, and future women researchers.  

Happy International Women’s Day! 

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