US State Department and the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation Work Together to Promote Women's and Girls' Engagement in Science. With the co-sponsorship of the OIC General Secretariat, a Symposium was held at the US State Department on June 13, 2011 under the title “Changing Mindsets to Promote Women and Girls in Science".
The US Department of State's Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (OES), in close partnership with the Secretary of State's Office of Global Women's Issues, led this effort with support from the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the National Science Foundation as major partners. Additional partners were NASA, the National Institutes of Health, USAID, the Iraqi Women's Fellowship Foundation, and the National Academy of Sciences.
Fifteen women scientists from Benin, Jordan, Burkina Faso, Mongolia, Brazil, India, Tanzania, the Gambia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Iraq, and Palestine participated at the symposium. Overall, the symposium, a commitment on the part of the US, under the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), was, from the OIC perspective, a meaningful joint activity within the OIC-US engagement.
It brought more than 100 scientists, educators and representatives from the private sector together. Participants examined programs and policies that are making a positive impact on attracting girls to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, keeping them interested in STEM through college, and providing concrete tools to retain women scientists at every level of their scientific careers.
Two OIC specialized organs dealing with science and technology were also represented at the event. Dr. Robina Shaheen represented COMSTECH, OIC’s Standing Committee on Science and Technology and Mrs. Farah Atassi attended on behalf of ISESCO, Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
As a matter of fact, both empowerment of women and promotion of science and technology in the member states are among the priorities within the reformed and expanded vision of the OIC. Many OIC Summit and Ministerial Conferences have underscored the necessity of addressing the needs and concerns of women and their role in the development of society.
The OIC as part of its new strategy laid out in the Ten Year Programme of Action focused on some key areas related to the development and empowerment of women.
In 2006 in Istanbul, in 2008 in Cairo and in 2010 in Tehran, three Ministerial level OIC Conferences were held to discuss ways and means of generating more opportunities for women in every walk of social life and to draft a plan of action to enhance the role of women in the development of societies. Opposing to violence against women and achieving their advancement and empowerment in the societies are among the main themes of the OIC action.
The OIC Conference of Foreign Ministers held in Dushanbe, Republic of Tajikistan, in May 2010 adopted the Statute of the Organization of Women Development in the OIC Member States, with its headquarters to be established in Cairo. This new OIC Specialized Organ is expected to be operational soon after attaining the quorum of ratifications from the member states.
As for the role of women in science and technology, the most significant effort at the OIC level has been the creation of the Islamic Network of Women Scientists under the coordination of ISESCO. The Fourth OIC Ministers of Higher Education and Scientific Research held in Baku in October 2008 and the Fifth one held in Kuala Lumpur in October 2010 took important decisions in this regard.
Therefore, the OIC General Secretariat was very pleased to be able to contribute to the initiative of the State Department. It was a matter of pride for the OIC General Secretariat particularly to sponsor the participation of Dr. Ansam Sawalha, the founding director of the Palestinian Poison Control and Drug Information Center, established in 2006. She served as chairman for the Department of pharmacology, the coordinator of basic medical departments, and as a Dean of the faculty of Nursing at An-Najah National University in Nablus.
The other participant sponsored by the OIC General Secretariat was Ms. Betiku Omolola of Nigeria, who is a lecturer at the Department of Animal Sciences of the Faculty of Agriculture of Obafemi Awolowo University where she teaches fisheries and animal sciences courses. In 2009 she won a fellowship of the African Women in Agricultural research and Development (AWARD).
The US-OIC engagement at the institutional level started in 2008 with the appointment of Ambassador Sada Cumber by President George W. Bush as the First US Special Envoy to the OIC. Potential role of science and technology was given considerable consideration from the very beginning in the OIC-US engagement agenda. Therefore, the event organized at the State Department on June 13, 2011, will provide encouragement and guidance for future cooperation on the theme of women and science. Cooperation to support women’s contribution to the development of OIC member states in science and technology represents encouragement and hope for the future.
At the symposium the OIC announced that it will host a visit by RAISE Project leadership in OIC member states within the coming months. The visit will offer opportunities to adapt RAISE programming in OIC nations. The RAISE Project, sponsored by the Society for Women’s Health Research (SWHR), is a campaign to increase the status of professional women through enhanced recognition of their achievements in science, technology, engineering, medicine, and mathematics. Its searchable database of professional awards is an invaluable resource for scientists wishing to nominate women for professional recognition.
At the conclusion of the symposium, the State Department and the OIC agreed to hold a similar symposium in the Middle East/North Africa region in recognition of the inspiration provided by the success of the three-day International Conference on Women Leaders in Science, Technology and Engineering held in Kuwait in 2007.