International Women’s Day and the Importance of Women in Research

In our ever-evolving society, in which social dynamics are constantly shifting, International Women’s Day (IWD), celebrated on 8th March, is now just as important as ever.

A day to show support for the achievements of women in various spheres and over the course of many centuries, IWD has a long history, dating back to 1911, when women in Austria, Germany, Denmark and Switzerland marched for their rights in the first celebration of the historic day. Since then, there have been many heroic efforts by women to achieve gender equality. For example, in 1975, 90% of the women in Iceland marched on Reykjavik to demonstrate their importance to the economy. Around the world, International Women’s Day is celebrated in a variety of ways. In China, for example, women are allowed to have a half-day off work, whereas in Berlin, IWD is now a public holiday.

Although much progress has been made historically in terms of genders being treated fairly and equally, there are currently ongoing threats to women’s rights and safety.

Violence against women skyrocketed in 2020, with many domestic abuse victims isolated with their abusers due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a consequence that is now being referred to as “the shadow pandemic”. Women currently at home due to the pandemic are also generally taking on the burden of being the chief caregiver, and are taking on the greater share of domestic work compared to men in the household. Currently, there is a comparative lack of women in political power. Although females make up around half of the world’s population, they make up only 24.5% of all national parliaments (October 2019).

One of the ways in which these inequalities can be tackled is through education. Evidence has shown that raising women’s level of education leads to a reduction in domestic abuse, an increase in the wealth of women and society as a whole, and empowers women by giving them the confidence to follow the career path of their choosing. The continued presence of women in education and academia is therefore critical to cementing women’s place at the table.

Although there are now globally more women than men in higher education, according to Unicef, only 66% of countries have achieved gender parity in primary education. In many countries, such as Niger and Burkina Faso, the perceived value of girls’ education is low, meaning that boys are often funded to go to school, but girls may instead be married at a young age, and their education may be halted.

There is also a growing need to tackle the deep-rooted inequalities that still remain in higher education itself, such as the lack of female representation in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects. Increasing the number of women in STEM subjects has many benefits. For example, different perspectives are needed in order to increase innovation, and increased diversity leads to more diverse ideas. The increased presence of women in STEM subjects has knock-on effects that benefit women more widely. It has been found that women’s work in STEM is likely to be more inclusive of women’s health and progression, meaning that the findings and/or results will benefit women everywhere.

Potential reasons for the current underrepresentation in STEM subjects include a lack of female role models, a lack of confidence, and the unrelenting stereotypes that follow female STEM students from an early age. We are keen to see this change and have taken steps to contribute to this.

As an organisation in the higher education sphere, MDPI encourages the publication of research papers by women in all fields (including STEM subjects), and submissions to all journals and Special Issues, and fully support gender equality in all areas, including education. Last year, MDPI’s journal Women published its first paper, written by Mary V. Seeman, Professor Emerita at the University of Toronto. With a comprehensive focus on women’s lives and health, it is hoped that this new journal will encourage the writing and sharing of research to promote gender equality in MDPI journals.

As well as the journal Women, MDPI regularly produces Special Issues as part of its ‘Women in…’ range, including ‘Women in Electronics’ and ‘Women in Pharmaceutics’, to promote the research achievements of women in various fields, some of which have a distinct lack of female input. There are also Special Issues covering the topic itself, such as ‘Women in Male-Dominated Domains’ (https://www.mdpi.com/journal/socsci/special_issues/Male-Dominated), which outlines the disparities in gender representation in various research fields.

Although these particular spaces were uniquely created to encourage gender equality in our many journals, we would like to emphasise that all of our journals are open to submission from people of all genders. The importance of diversity in scientific and humanitarian research cannot be underestimated.

On International Women’s Day 2021, we choose to challenge biased notions of gender that hold women back globally. We hope that this observance, as well as the creation of the new journal Women and the ‘Women in…’ range, will help to accelerate the attainment of women’s rights and help shape a fairer society for all.

There are many virtual events and conferences taking place on the subject of IWD and women’s equality on and around 8th March. These are run by various companies and for different fields (for example, ‘Women of impact in photography’), so there is something for everyone. Attend and make a difference!

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