MAAS Sydney Observatory Education & Digital Learning Guide and astronomer Raghda Khaleq writes…
This year (2019), we will celebrate International Women’s Day on Friday the 8th March, and with it we will celebrate women’s varied economic, political, social and intellectual accomplishments. Since its commencement in 1911, International Women’s Day has provided a “unified direction to guide and galvanize continuous collective action”. This year’s theme, #BalanceforBetter, encourages individuals, groups and organisations to create more gender-balanced classrooms, workplaces, sports teams, governments, hiring practices, and media coverage. The “2019 #BalanceforBetter campaign runs all year long. It does not start or end on International Women’s Day.”
Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine (STEMM) have strived long and hard to break gender barriers. In particular, the ratio of men to women entering Physics and Astronomy is disproportionate, and becomes even more so on higher levels of the professional and academic ladder. According to a study conducted by researchers at the University of Melbourne, “Physics has one of the largest gender gaps” in STEMM, and “it will be more than two centuries until there are equal numbers of senior male and female researchers in physics”.
Social and institutional structures often play powerful roles in creating such glass ceilings. Women in Physics and Astronomy may be forced to battle ingrained societal expectations, as well as unconscious and intentional bias, discrimination and harassment. Despite these struggles, many women in Physics and Astronomy have attained great heights throughout their careers, such as Vera Rubin, Marie Curie, Katherine Johnson and Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin.
These achievements have produced a domino effect of equally great accomplishments, that collectively bring all women and female-identifying persons closer to a gender-equal world. At the end of 2018 Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith was appointed as Australia’s first Women in STEM Ambassador, whilst more recently (Jan 2019) the position of Chief Defence Scientist was assigned to Professor Tanya Monro, the first female in this role. In 2018, Professor Donna Strickland became the third woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics, alongside Gérard Mourou, for their invention of chirped pulse amplification.
Although progress is being steadily made towards a more gender-equal world, it is still as important as ever to aid these efforts.
If you would like more information about International Women’s Day please visit the official site. You can also read about Muriel Heagney, one of the ‘hidden figures’ of Australian astronomy or view Sydney Observatory’s 2018 IWD blog series to learn more about the accomplishments of several women in Physics and Astronomy.
Happy International Women’s Day!
 Michael Allen, Physics World, 20th April 2018, https://physicsworld.com/a/gender-gap-in-physics-amongst-highest-in-science/