What a pleasure it is to join you at the end of your deliberations, and to benefit from hearing your views and conclusions. I would have liked to have also been there at the beginning of your meeting to bid you welcome in Egypt and in Alexandria in Person. I am sure however, that our colleagues from the Library of Alexandria have done their utmost to express to you our happiness that you are tackling this timely topic in Egypt and now in our premises at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina.
However, before I can say anything else, I must congratulate our most talented Susannah for her incredibly impressive achievements. I am sure that in a few years she will be joining the ranks of women Nobel laureates in science, of whom there are entirely too few. Bravo, Susannah, and from the bottom of my heart, my best wishes for every continued success in your undoubtedly brilliant career.
As to the Conference itself, I am pleased to see the consensus that has developed around the findings of the Inter-Academy Council (IAC) report “Women for Science”, the Arabic translation of which has just been launched today. Earlier in the day we also launched another Arabic translation of another report: “Women in an Insecure World” prepared by DCAF in Switzerland. In that report, the issue was the victimization of women in so many ways around the planet, especially in areas of war and strife, but also through illegal trafficking and many other less obvious ways. But what we are talking about here is different.
There we talked about how to protect women from being victims, and to ensure respect for their human rights in fact as well as in law. Here we are talking about more subtle issues. How to ensure that talented women can indeed make their contributions in science, and for that matter in any field they choose, to the fullest extent of their capabilities and that society provides the means to make that possible.
Our objective is to ensure that women, whether they choose to be research scientists in the lab, or to teach in the great universities or to be heads of science-based corporations should not be confronted with the “glass ceiling” that is so characteristic of the higher level positions in many sectors, and in many parts of the world, and which regretfully is still too pronounced in the domain of science. That of course is surprising since the scientific community has tended to be the most egalitarian, arbitrating disputes with the empirical scientific method. But talented women confront many real obstacles: the real difficulties of balancing career and home, a biological time clock on procreation, and the heavy load of child-rearing which even in the most egalitarian societies tends to fall disproportionately on women rather than men. But society can assist, by facilitating part-time work, removing career penalties for time outs, and other means. They can create a more gender sensitive work environment, encourage mentoring and perhaps support more research topics of interest to women.
More subtle and less easy to overcome will be the attitudes of some of our male colleagues. Although many are indeed sensitive to these issues, it is clear that not enough of them are. I am pleased that as I look around the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, with its many research centers and myriad activities, I see a gender-balanced youthful and energetic group of people. Women and men working together, hand in hand. We need to breathe with two lungs, we need to walk on two feet. We need to engage men in these issues, for they are not “women’s issues” they are “societal issues” that concern us all. They are about what kind of a society we want to build for our daughters and our sons, as much as they are about righting the wrongs of the past and dealing with the inequities of the present.
And in that spirit, I am particularly pleased to welcome the distinguished members of the Arab Network of Women In Science and Technology (ANWIST) which will be meeting on their own after this session. To them I bring my support and admiration. We need in our part of the world to make sure that we do not allow mistaken notions of propriety or deep seated conventions to deprive our societies of the talent and abilities of half the population. We do have an increasing number of young women entering the science and technology fields, but that is still a small proportion compared to the overall population and still the question remains as to what and where they will be twenty years hence when the subtle – and not so subtle – social pressures have taken their toll. ANWIST is the way to provide a mutually reinforcing network of role models – and I see many of them here. ANWIST can become the voice of our concerns in expressing our issues as societal issues not as individual cases. I invite ANWIST to consider the Bibliotheca Alexandrina their natural home, their base for any activity that they want to undertake.
In conclusion, I am delighted that so many talented persons, both women and men, both young – very young – and not so young, have gathered here in Alexandria. I am sure that for many it has been a journey of discovery. For all, it has been an enriching experience. By your presence you make the fifth anniversary of the BA meaningful. By your actions you make our gatherings worthwhile. I thank you all and bid you safe journeys, God bless you each and every one.