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IV International Conference “Women in Physics”, Cape Town, Stellenbosch, South Africa, April 5-8, 2011

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Nelly Didenko

Gender equality and equal opportunities for women and men in science and research is a pre-condition and a fundamental element for achieving the European Research Area (ERA) and the realisation of sustainable growth in Europe1.

The Fourth IUPAP2 International Conference on Women in Physics (ICWIP2011) was held in April 2011 in Stellenbosch, South Africa. ICWIP2011 was organized by initiative of the Working Group “Women in Physics” of IUPAP (Barbara Sandow – Chair). The conference was hosted by Women in Physics in South Africa (WiPiSA) as well as the South African Institute of Physics (SAIP). South Africa’s Department of Science and Technology was one of the main sponsors of the conference. And Ms. Naledi Pandor,  South African Minister of the Department of Science and Technology made an opening address to the participants of ICWIP2011.  The conference brought together over 220 women and men from 59 countries, including developing countries, and 20 non-members of IUPAP. 

Why “Women in Physics”?

“Physics plays a key role in understanding the world we live in and physicists contribute strongly to the welfare and economic development of nations. The knowledge and problem-solving skills of physicists are essential in many professions and industries and to society at large. To thrive in today's fast-changing, technological world, every country must achieve a highly educated population of women and men, fully engaged in making decisions important to their well being”3.
Why “Women”? There are great problems with shortage of researchers in the World. Young men often prefer business to science. Women are an underutilized intellectual reserve in physics today. To learn grow physicists is a very expensive and long process, thus, it is very important that women-physicists after birth of child would return to their workplace.

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Why in South Africa?

South Africa established democracy in 19944. The government and national institutions possess a formidable focus on Human Capital Development and strongly encourage the study of mathematics and science in schools, tertiary education, the acquisition of higher degrees and redress of gender imbalances. A great deal more still remains to be done to eliminate imbalances in physics. South Africa has demonstrated that it can certainly make important shifts in its society. The physics community in South Africa is positively involved in transforming the world for its members, and for these reasons conferencing ICWIP 2011 in Stellenbosch was very important.

IUPAP has acknowledged a specific requirement to promote the involvement of women in physics. The IUPAP Conference series on Women in Physics, organised by IUPAP Working Group, comes with a history not just of success and growth but most typically associated with the difference it has made within the physics community.
The goals of the conference were to review the international status of women in physics in different countries, to share success stories about women careers, to help teams to form strategies for improving the status of women in physics. The fourth conference in this series, ICWIP 2011, provided a discussion forum for both scientific presentations and for discussion of concerns linked to attracting, retaining and improving the standing of women in physics. ICWIP2011 could promote collaboration in physics research and education.

The conference was consisted of the several plenary talks by eminent physicists and workshops on the following topics: personal professional development, improving the Workplace environment for women/ leaving and entering a career in physics, gender studies and the role of women in physics, attracting girls to physics and forming scientific networking disciplines.

By the words from Resolution of the conference it was the first such gathering in Africa, providing a special opportunity to stimulate networking on that continent to boost physics and expand and advance women’s involvement in the growing science enterprise of developing countries. A highlight of the conference was the world-premier presentation of preliminary results from the Global Survey of Physicists which received responses from nearly 15,000 physicists from more than 130 countries. About 25% of the respondents were female, allowing detailed analysis of educational and career pathways and experiences by gender and across various world regions and cultures. 

The main points of resolution included improving the effectiveness of girls’ education in physics, summarizing guidelines for the training of physics educators at all levels, understanding barriers to women’s participation and advancement and shaping interventions from the complete analysis of the Global Survey of Physicists. One of the recommendations of resolution was to endorse collaborations between physicists and social scientists, to form IUPAP list of criteria for awards ensuring that women are nominated for prizes and that there are women on the selection committees for prizes and awards. All countries should report on dynamics of gender statistics on women in physics were recommended to publish in IUPAP Proceedings. Charge the IUPAP Working Group on Women in Physics (a) to make useful resources available globally through the Internet; (b) to analyze brief reports from country team leaders and IUPAP Liaison Committees regarding the status and progress for women in physics; (c) to organize the 5th International Conference on Women in Physics in 2014.

The members and the heads of EPWS5 took an active part in ICWIP2011. As you know, the European Commission's Consultation for a Green Paper on a Common Strategic Framework for future EU Research and Innovation Funding was one of the most actual documents in spring 2011. ES GB has written Commitment on this case. EPWS has written a response to this document as well.

Recommendations of ESWP to the Green Paper are similar to the conclusions of ICWIP resolution. Specifically, strengthening the role of women in R&D by enrolling excellent girl students, setting of gender indicators concerning the participation of women in EU funded research, increasing research funding to support gender studies for proposition innovative solutions, continuing the publication of gender-disaggregated statistics in She in Figures and many others. For promotion mobility in a gender-sensitive scientific culture in EU the special caring responsibilities propose, for example, better possibilities for dual research couples, for family-take-along, adequate childcare possibilities at research institutions throughout Europe and others. As an illustration of this policy New EU Prize for Women Innovators can be shown. (http://ec.europa.eu/women-innovators)

Science and strong competition are inseparable, but the situation of today is that without mass participation of women science cannot develop any further. There cannot exist a special affirmative action for women at the fore front of science. The strongest wins. Prof. Helga Nowotny, the Chair of ERC is “adamantly against affirmative action for women despite their embarrassing lack of success at ERC. Of the latest round of Advanced Grants for established scientists, 9,4% went to women in 2010. It went down from 15% in 2009.”

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