The Arab Institute for Women

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Athena40-5th Global Conversation: “Innovation, Change, & Education for Women in the Digital Age”

On March 8, 2023, to mark International Women’s Day, The Arab Institute for Women (AiW), in collaboration with Athena40, hosted the Beirut panel for the 5th Global Conversation themed “Innovation, Change, and Education for Women in the Digital Age” and connected simultaneously with cities across the globe, like Amman, London, Karachi, and Malmo.

Director of The AiW and moderator of the Beirut panel, Ms. Myriam Sfeir, welcomed the panelists and attendees, and introduced the conversation’s theme by underlining the role of innovation, change, and education in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls in a digital age. Ms. Sfeir then connected the Beirut speakers with the panelists across the different cities, before finally launching the discussion.

In a first intervention, Dr. Samira Korfali, Retired Associate Professor at the Department of Natural Science at LAU, focused her talk on the key role of society, particularly the school and the family, in encouraging or discouraging women and girls’ involvement in the STEM fields in Lebanon. As she explained, like in many countries around the world, traditional gender norms, discrimination, stereotypes, and biases continue to contribute to the underrepresentation of women in the sciences. Yet, to overcome these challenges and excel under societal pressure, Dr. Korfali called for reinforcing women and girls’ know-how, skills, and self-confidence by promoting an inclusive learning environment, engaging women and girls in STEM projects, promoting women role models in the sciences, and sharing women’s success stories in the STEM fields. By implementing the aforementioned recommendations, she confirmed, women and girls will have greater opportunities to engage in STEM professions and careers.

Then, Dr. Tamara El Zein, Research Director at the National Council for Scientific Research in Lebanon, underpinned two major problems which women in STEM continue to endure in Lebanon: minimal visibility and limited employment opportunities. According to Dr. El Zein, the history of science and its advancement has, in most events, been attributed to men’s successes, while women’s achievements have been undervalued. Consequently, the nonrecognition of women’s accomplishments and innovations in the sciences, she confirmed, has been a major factor which downplays young girls’ interest and enrollment in the STEM fields. Nonetheless, Dr. El Zein added, employment opportunities for women scientists are very limited in Lebanon. As she argued, many big firms and academic institutions continue to discriminate against women in the workplace and are, in many instances, unwilling to employ women scientists. These factors, among many others, Dr. El Zein confirmed, restrict women and girls’ participation in the STEM fields in Lebanon.

Next, Dr. Nancy Fayad, Research Faculty and Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the School of Pharmacy at LAU, emphasized the importance of education in promoting women and girls’ interest in the STEM fields. As an instructor, Dr. Fayad highlighted the vital role which school teachers, university professors, and academic advisors assume in shaping the mindset and career paths of their students. As she explained, instructors should encourage young girls to engage in the STEM fields from an early age, employ engaging teaching tools and methods, and provide guidance for young girls on the important implications of STEM. As Dr. Fayad finally argued, to further encourage women and girls’ active participation, academic institutions should implement hands-on trainings which improve the latter’s readiness to join the STEM fields, develop their skills, and increase their self-confidence.  

In a final intervention, Ms. Joslin Kehdy, Founder of Recycle Lebanon, shed light on the importance of promoting community initiatives which create environmental solutions, involve women and girls in producing impact and change, and advance gender equality and inclusivity. As Ms. Kehdy argued, encouraging women’s engagement in hands-on projects is critical to introduce them to real world experiences and stimulate positive community campaigns and engagements. Yet, she acknowledged the many difficulties, like the traditional societal constraints, that continue to demotivate and intimidate women and girls. Thereby, she affirmed, organizations and institutions in Lebanon, which support women’s empowerment and inclusion, especially in the STEM fields, should provide scholars/activists with the required resources and mentorship opportunities to activate their involvement and celebrate their accomplishments.

Finally, Ms. Sfeir connected again with the panelists across all the cities, shared the most important reflections from the Beirut discussion, before finally concluding the event with a short Q&A session.