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Opportunities available to an average female researcher are few: Dr Anisa Qamar

April 30, 2016


As Pakistani women are making their mark in almost every field at national and international level, people are now familiar with their extraordinary work and participation in sports, film making, politics and defense services but majority is not aware of their activism in the field of Physics.

While political tussle continued dominating the Pakistani media, Pakistani women physicists were busy in organising first regional conference on ‘Women in Physics’ which was jointly organised by the University of Peshawar and National Center of Physics (NCP) in collaboration with Centre for Physics Education Karachi and the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics, Italy. The Higher Education Commission (HEC) and Organisation of Islamic Cooperation Standing Committee on Scientific and Technological Cooperation (Comstech) also supported the event.

Active graduate and postgraduate female students as well as women faculty and experts involved in Physics research at various universities, post-graduate colleges, centre of excellence in the region participated in the conference besides delegated from United States, Canada and Iran. More than 32 oral presentations were delivered by local and foreign experts during the conference.

Why women in Physics? Associate Professor of the University of Peshawar and Scientific Secretary of the event Dr. Anisa Qamar answered this question in a very simple way while talking to ‘The News’.

“Leaving aside a few exceptions like Fabiola Gianotti who is the present and the first female director of European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN), women in general have rarely made to the top echelon of research in Physics. This may be simply because opportunities available to an average female researcher are few and far less as compared to those available to men not only because the established norms discourage women from taking a lead role, especially in experimental physics research but also because women themselves limit their aspirations very conveniently by reconciling family life with career in Physics.”  

She said that women science is not different than the science men do and cognitive abilities cannot be ascribed only to a particular gender. “Instead of seeing ourselves being the oppressed segment of our society, the present conference addresses the issue pertaining to the low entry of female into physics education as well as their retention after they get into the pipeline of Physics research.” She said that there might not be discrimination at the intellectual levels but the symbolic presence of women on different committees that are responsible for managing the affairs of science world over is tantamount to gender discrimination.

NCP Director Dr Hafeez Hoorani said that the recent trend shows that women enrollment in higher education institutions is higher as compared to men but to pursue a career in research and development, women need support from family. To improve performance of women in fields such as Physics, he stressed the need for change in the social mindset. “In our country, there are more women heroes in every field as compared to men role models,” he said.  

Aziz Fatima from Centre of Physics Education, Karachi, shared the history of the initiative saying that first global conference on “Women in Physics” took place in 2002 where the reasons behind the low number of women in the field of Physics were extensively discussed. “Every country conducted a research on this issue after the conference and reasons were found to be more or less same in every country i.e. household responsibilities and discrimination in access to opportunities,” she said.

Fatima said that the regional conference will help in preparing a line of action for women in all areas of Physics and allied disciplines to join the activities of international community of women Physicists. “It will also provide a forum for networking in the region.

The event comprised of keynote lectures, talks, and poster presentations covering a wide range of topics in the field of physics. It was aimed at enhancing scientific collaboration among women Physicists of the region by presenting and sharing their research activities and promotion of physics education among women. Besides presentation of research papers, the conference discussed constrains being faced by women in getting higher education in science and technology.

“I hope that the conference will help us evolve strategies for enhancing entry of female into Physics education but also helping female stay in Physics research,” said Aquila Islam from Centre of Physics Education, Karachi.  

Dina Izadi, Researcher and Director Ariaian Young Innovative Minds Institute, Iran, said that scientific development is above world conflicts and serves as a source to bring countries together.   

Adriana Predoi-Cross from Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Lethbridge, Canada, said that she has discussed options of student exchange between Pakistani and Canadian universities during the conference. She suggested that organizers must hold a series of such conferences to encourage women in the field of Physics and connect them to the world.