International Women’s Day

March 3, 2017

Raghda Abdel Khaleq is an astronomy guide at Sydney Observatory and a physics student at the University of New South Wales. In this post she talks about International Women’s Day.

This year, International Women’s Day will fall on Wednesday the 8th of March, and it will bring with it a celebratory spirit surrounding the many economic, political, intellectual and social achievements of women worldwide.

2017’s campaign theme is #BeBoldForChange, which, much like last year’s theme #PledgeForParity, encourages individuals and organisations to “help women and girls achieve their ambitions; challenge conscious and unconscious bias; call for gender-balanced leadership; value women and men’s contributions equally; and create inclusive flexible cultures”.

Annually, this event helps raise awareness of the many challenges women face, and it encourages the advocacy of women’s rights and the importance of increasing the number of women in professional and leadership roles. In particular, women in STEM-related fields have battled to break down glass ceilings for decades. A report by the Office of the Chief Scientist, based on data from the 2011 Census of Population and Housing, shows that only 16% of STEM qualified people and 18% of Astronomy and Physics graduates are female. Despite these statistics, women everywhere have made immense contributions to their fields.

One such accomplished scientist was Marie Curie, who not only was the first female professor at the University of Paris, but was the first and only person to win a Noble Prize in both Chemistry and Physics. She coined the term radioactivity, and discovered two elements, polonium and radium. Much like her, Katherine Johnson’s achievements helped pave the way for female scientists, particularly for women of colour. She calculated the trajectories, launch windows and back-up plans for NASA’s Apollo 11 mission to the Moon through to the Space Shuttle Program. She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015 for her contributions.

In admiring the accomplishments of these women, it is easy to forget that it is the small, everyday actions of individuals and groups that collectively help close the gender gap. Here at Sydney Observatory, our commitment to gender equality is reflected in our 50-50 female to male staff ratio. In recognition of the event we are keen to celebrate the ways in which some of our female staff members have committed to being role models to young girls in science. Here is what they had to say:

“Until I entered undergraduate studies I couldn’t name more than a few women in STEM, but throughout history, women have made some crucial contributions to the fields. Sharing and promoting stories of women in STEM can encourage more girls to get in and stay in STEM fields. Knowledge that others like you have faced the same trials before and successfully pushed through is always an incentive to persevere.”
Nuwanthika Fernando
University of Sydney, PhD student in Astrophysics

“As a woman in STEM, I’d like to see more women in the hard sciences like Physics. In my career I, and many of my colleagues at Sydney Observatory, strive to inspire people young and old — especially young women — into studying and learning more about space and science. I also enjoy helping young high school students with understanding Physics through tutoring to give them a spark to continue such study through higher education.”
Kirsten Banks
University of New South Wales, Bachelor of Science, Physics Major

In recognition of the event, the Observatory will have an all-star female team deliver the Twilight and Night Tours on Wednesday 8th March, so make sure you come and support us in taking one more step towards a gender-equal world. If you would like to support the event in any other way, visit the International Women’s Day website for more information and resources.

Happy International Women’s Day!

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