Newsletter - July 2014, Issue 6


Informal Science Learning as means to Increase Interest in Science among Young Palestinian Women: The Case of "Transit of Venus" Activity.
Networking in Naples: the Euro-Mediterranean Workshop.

Reflections on the advancement of science in the Islamic world today

International Cooperation Projects and Events


Danièle Meulders and Síle O’Dorchai, Université Libre de Bruxelles

This sixth issue of our SHEMERA e-newsletter focuses on the outcomes of the Euro-Mediterranean workshop on gender and science that was organized at Città della Scienza in Naples on May 30, 2014. This workshop constitutes a cornerstone in our SHEMERA research work.  Between March 2013 and May 2014, national workshops were organized in all the Southern Mediterranean countries (Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine, the Syrian Arab Republic and Tunisia) presenting the results of our SHEMERA research so far and trying to formulate both country-specific and general policy recommendations to improve gender equality in science in the Southern Mediterranean area.  The Euro-Mediterranean workshop on gender and science brought together the whole SHEMERA team as well as many experts of women/gender-sensitive scientific associations in the Southern and Northern Mediterranean countries. It also brought together all the outcomes of the national workshops and provided an excellent opportunity for comparison and exchange. The presentations, debates, and working group discussions allowed for new insight into the issue of women in science in the individual countries as well as in the region as a whole. Moreover, through the remarkable keynote speech by Prof. Teresa Rees, the Southern Mediterranean research on the topic was nourished by important findings and lessons learned from previous European benchmarking projects on women in science.
Comparison and exchange will remain our guides in the final phase of our project, a phase that started in Naples and will end in Morocco where the final SHEMERA conference will be held at the end of October. We are now facing the challenging task of using all the national data, literature, policy examples and recommendations to draw up a comprehensive final comparative report on the situation of women in science in the Southern Mediterranean Area. Given the rich results obtained throughout our project, we are confident that we will have a very interesting and innovative final report ready to share with you in Morocco in October. 


ULB – Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium

BAY-KKI - Bay Zoltan Alkalmazott Kutatasi Kozhasznu Non profit Kft, Hungary (instead of  TETALAP – Hungarian Science and Technology Foundation)
EKT/NHRF – National Documentation Centre / National Hellenic Research Foundation, Greece
ITU – Istanbul Teknik Universitesi, Turkey
IDIS – Fondazione IDIS - Città della Scienza, Italy
AARC – Arab and African Research Centre, Egypt
ASRT – Academy of Scientific Research and Technology, Egypt
CIDDEF – Association culturelle M’Barek Ait Menguelet, Algeria
AU – Alexandria University, Egypt
WSC – University of Jordan, Jordan
RSS – Royal Scientific Society, Jordan
USJ – Université Saint-Joseph, Lebanon
UH2MC – Université Hassan II, Mohammedia-Casablanca, Morocco
IWS – Birzeit University, Palestinian-administered areas
ALEPPO – Aleppo University, Syrian Arab Republic
FSB – Université de Carthage, Tunisia
CIREM – Fundació Centre d’Iniciatives i Recerques Europees a la Mediterrània, Spain 


Informal Science Learning as means to Increase Interest in Science among Young Palestinian Women: The Case of "Transit of Venus" Activity[1]
Bisan Batrawi, Al Qattan Foundation, Palestine

June 2012 marked a very important month for astronomers and astronomy lovers. The transit of Venus was literally a once-in-a-lifetime event and if you have missed it then that's too bad - probably your great grandchild (if not your great great grandchild) will be the next lucky person to see it in 2117.
About two weeks before the transit of Venus, on a sunny day in Ramallah in May, 2012, I was doing my daily routine of checking the science news for the day. One particular title caught my attention - "The Transit of Venus: it's Now or Never." I researched more about this and immediately thought that this is something we at the Walid and Helen Kattan Science Education Project should not miss; as a science education project working in informal science education, such an event must be utilized to raise people's interest in science. I called a few teachers who are truly engaged with our project, met with them, and we decided that we should design activities to observe this once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon.
Kareema, one of the science teachers I worked with, showed tremendous interest in this event and so, she gathered her students - on their school break- and shared the idea with them. All of the students showed enormous enthusiasm for participating in such an event. Kareema worked with 43 students (all girls) from grades 7, 8 and 11, all of which are active in their school's science club. All of the girls came from Silwad, where their school is located, and a few villages nearby (Silwad is a Palestinian town located in the North-East of Ramallah). The students and Kareema researched about the phenomenon and its scientific and historical significance, worked on hands-on activities related to astronomy, and built their own tools from local materials to watch the phenomenon.
Two weeks later, just before sunrise on the 6th of June, 2012, around 4:30 AM, the students headed to a nearby village (Taybeh), along with some of their parents, other students and staff of the Qattan Foundation, to observe the phenomenon. That day was marked by an exceptional support from the participants’ parents who encouraged their girls to leave their houses by sunrise and be part of the scientific community. Everyone was waiting for the sunrise anxiously, and then, all eyes were directed at the sun - the little black dot (Venus) has appeared. That moment was full of joy as students were able to finally see what they have been learning about for two weeks; they felt a sense of accomplishment since they were able to take a photo of the transit of Venus from Palestine to share it with the international scientific community. The students then gave presentations on the knowledge they developed through this activity to their parents and the Foundation's staff. The event caught a lot of attention from the Palestinian media as such events are rarely considered by the Palestinian society. 

The Transit of Venus as seen from Palestine - Photo by Shadi Baker (06/06/2012)

Besides the observation of and knowledge on this unique phenomenon, the transit of Venus activity also aimed to spark an interest in science and astronomy among the participant students especially that they come from a rural society and a public school where less facilities and equipment are present, and teachers have less flexibility in time to introduce science in a nontraditional way.

Science Education in Palestine, Informal Science Education and Women in Science

Science education in Palestine remains to be traditional where the students’ role is limited by the text-based lectures of the teachers, and their performance is evaluated based on how well they know the text[2]. Thus, the students' interests in science are inhibited and a culture of fear of sciences is carried on due to its rigidity in schools. Informal science education is becoming increasingly popular worldwide, as it allows for a better understanding and retention of scientific and natural since it engages the learner in a personal experience. Informal science learning could be utilized to tackle the more difficult topics in science such as physics and astronomy. Astronomy is a field of interest for many people as it allows one to touch on the fascinating wonders of the outside world, and so, developing informal science learning activities that are astronomy-themed could be a way to attract people to science.
The issue of women in science is an international one where research on the women in science topic has been going on since the 1960s[3]. Research suggestions also apply to the Palestinian case as women are still underrepresented in sciences not only in Palestine, but also in the international arena. Fadigan & Hammrich (2004) imply in their study of an urban informal science education program directed at female participants in the United States that women and men are not treated equally from a very early age in most societies where men are often encouraged to have a scientific orientation and women are not.
As mentioned previously, the "Transit of Venus" activity was not merely an observation activity. The informal learning activity also aimed to empower the students and give them leadership as they join the international scientific community in a once-in-a-lifetime event. The students’ participation was driven by their own interest although the activity started just as they were starting their summer break; they were all enthusiastic about a new experience with one of their favorite teachers.

The students searching with tremendous excitement and curiosity for Venus as sunrise began

Findings from Research with the Students
Research with the students shows evidence of the strength of informal learning activities and the extent to which they may reach in raising girls’ active participation in science. The activity showed that hands-on and informal science are important and effective settings for raising interest in science as they allow one to experience science in an interactive unique way without the stress of being graded. The findings also show evidence of students working as “nascent scientists” by developing knowledge through research, anticipating an event, developing tools and working in groups.
The activity was also found to increase students' interest in astronomy. One of the students indicates in an interview; "I learned a lot from this activity and was exposed to very new information which I wouldn't normally know. To be honest, this was the first time for me to go on the internet and search on planets and especially the planet Venus.”
On a different, yet important level, students felt that they challenged their society by leaving their houses early in the morning. One of the students said "our society [in the village] is a bit of a conservative society. Even the men don't participate in science so imagine what the case of women would be. But through this experience we feel that we can empower and develop ourselves. This experience has changed so many things for us especially that we left our house very early, around 4:00 AM, and this was a step that broke the rules which the [rural] society has. Now our parents are ok with it. After they saw that our experience was fruitful, they now trust us to participate in more activities and they care that we learn.”
The success of the students’ learning experiences could be attributed to the fact that this informal learning activity was stress free, ungraded, and marked by a collaborative and friendly atmosphere. The students also felt important as they took part in an international scientific community simultaneously with challenging the societal restrictions for a very important cause. It is very important to invest in such activities as means to increase interest in science both as a general topic of interest, and as a career path for women and men alike.


  1. A.M. Qattan Foundation. (2011).  The Walid and Helen Kattan Science Education Project Document. Ramallah, Palestine: A.M. Qattan Foundation.
  2. Battrawi, B. (2012). Raising Palestinian Women’s Interest in Science through Informal Learning Activities: A Case Study of “The Transit of Venus". Proceedings of the 9th International Conference on Hands-on Science. Costa MF, Dorrio BV, Erdogan M, Erentay N (Eds.); 2012, 17-21 October; Akdeniz University, Antalya, Turkey. 93 - 101.
  3. Fadigan, K., & Hammrich, P.(2004). A Longitudinal Study of the Educational and Career Trajectories of Female Participants of an Urban Informal Science Education Program. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 41 (8), 835 – 860.
  4. Leta, L., & Lewison, G. (2003). The contribution of women in Brazilian science: A case study in astronomy, immunology and oceanography. Scientometrics, 57 (3), 339 – 353.
  5. Wahbeh, N. (2003).  Teaching and Learning Science in Palestine: Dealing with the New Palestinian Curriculum. Mediterranean Journal of Educational Studies, 8 (1), 135 – 159.

[1] This article is based on an paper written by Bisan Battrawi titled: Raising Palestinian Women’s Interest in Science through Informal Learning Activities: A Case Study of “The Transit of Venus" Published in Proceedings of the 9th International Conference on Hands-on Science. Costa MF, Dorrio BV, Erdogan M, Erentay N (Eds.); 2012, 17-21 October; Akdeniz University, Antalya, Turkey. 2012. 93 - 101.
[2] A.M. Qattan Foundation, 2011; Wahbeh, 2013
[3] Examples: Fadigan & Hammrich, 2004; Leta & Lewison, 2003


Networking in Naples: the Euro-Mediterranean Workshop
Flavia Zucco, Fondazione IDIS-Città della Scienza, Associazione Italiana Donne e Scienza
On the 30th of May 2014 the Euro-Mediterranean Workshop of the project SHEMERA was held in Naples at Città della Scienza.
The day before, on May 29, the 4th meeting was attended by the partners of the project since the aim was to update the state of the art at the level of each MPC.
The objectives and agenda of the meeting were:
  • To discuss the outcomes of the national seminars in the preparation of the Euro-Mediterranean Workshop (May 30).
  • To discuss the results of WP3 (statistics); WP4 (policies) and WP5 (literature) in order to prepare the final synthesis reports (WP7).
  • To agree the date and agenda of the final conference of the project in October 2014.
  • To organise the work for the next months by agreeing on tasks and deadlines.

Nadia Ait Zai (Algeria), Bahia Shaheen (Egypt), Mahasen Aljaghoub (Jordan), Hyam Abboud (Lebanon), Amina Bettachy (Morocco), Ghada Karaki (Palestine), Hayat Touchan (Syria) and  Sihem Jaziri (Tunisia) reported on  their national seminars.
Most of these have been attended also by representative of  institutions and even of  governments and by a wide audience of participants. The debate were reported as very alive and constructive in each country. Several common targets were identified by the different countries as:

  • the necessity to set up  a stable data base in order to monitor the presence of women in research ( humanities as well technological).
  • the need of mentoring and the promotion of role-model through educational and communication actions
  • the necessity to improve life/work conciliation
  • the evidence  of differences in salary and budgets.

It was clear that not all the countries were homogeneous in the point of view of legislative aspects to support women, as well as about awareness of discrimination. Moreover, some of the speakers, beside their access and position in research, addressed serious problem concerning the situation of women in society. The theme of violence against women, very actual everywhere, is perceived as even more serious due to the presence of civil wars in some of the countries involved in the project.  The problem of education also was mentioned do to the restricted access of children (mainly female) to education.
In summarizing the issue Mine Tan (ITU), underlined the need of changing the culture in order to implement different practices by law. The inclusion of men in the debate has been judged unavoidable, in order to really reach the stated goals. 

Participants to the Euro-Mediterranean workshop, Naples, 30 May 2014

The second day was attended by a wider audience with a group of experts from Europe and the Mediterranean. It was opened by a welcome addresses of Vincenzo Lipardi (CEO, Città della Scienza) and Anne-Marie Bruyas (responsible for International Partnerships) and of Cristina Mangia, President of the Italian Association Donne e Scienza (  Maria Caprile presented the project  and its progress towards the objectives.
The main lecture has been given by Teresa Rees, Cardiff University, School of  Social Science on Developments in the situation of women in science and research in Europe and discussion of policies”. A lot of interest has been raised  by the long lasting policies of the EU that have let women of EU countries to move on several issue concerning career advancement in academia. Prof. Rees in fact by her speech  endorsed many of the initiatives proposed by the MPC. In the afternoon two hours were devoted to the networking in three working groups around the general topic: How to improve the situation of women in research and science in the Mediterranean Partner Countries 
The groups have  been moderated by two facilitators from the SHEMERA partners (one from Europe, one from the MPCs) to guide the discussion in each group. 


Plenary session at the Euro-Mediterranean Workshop, Naples, 30 May 2014

1) The presence of women in research in Arab Countries (past, present and future):

  • Is the presence of women in research significant in your country? Is it increasing over time? Are there differences in the presence of women according to disciplines? What about decision-making positions?
  • Are there policies to fight against female illiteracy or school drop-out? How do schools and universities support science education to attract young girls in research?
  • Are there outstanding women in science and arts proposed as role-models? Are there archives or records concerning outstanding women in the history of science?
  • Is the presence of women in research institutionally supported in your country? Is there any good practice or relevant measure in place?
  • Are there women in science associations? Are there other initiatives to promote women in research networking?

2) Root causes of gender segregation in the labor market:

  • What difficulties do graduated students face to enter in the labor market today? Are there differences between men and women?
  • Is gender segregation in the labor market high? (sectors, occupations, decision-making positions…) Is the segregation due to official rules or to other less visible practices?
  • Is there awareness on gender discrimination in the labor market among people? How is it explained (male power defense, cultural/religious traditions, gendered stereotypes…)
  • Are women aware of their capacities? Do they resist to enter in a male dominated environment? 

3) Policies and measures to promote gender equality in the evolving context of MPCs:

  • Are there family-care or other social policies to support the entry of women in the labor market?
  • Are there transparent rules for recruitment, and for the advancement of careers in research? Has the issue of quotas been raised? Are there mechanisms to avoid gender discrimination in recruitment and advancement?
  • Are you familiar with gender budgeting? Are the resources equally distributed among women and men?
  • How can gender equality in the labor market be better promoted? What would be the main priorities for policy action?  And in the field of research?


Developments in the situation of women in science and research in Europe and discussion of policies - Professor Teresa Rees, Cardiff University

The European Commission’s Research Directorate-General Scientific Culture & Gender Issues Unit has a long history of paying attention to the issue of women in science and sex and gender in research in the European Union.  In 2000, it published the ‘ETAN’ report on gender mainstreaming in science policies (European Commission 2000) which showed that:
  • There was a lack of statistics on women in science
  • That work life balance issues were a challenge
  • That there were challenges around who decides what is excellent in science, and how they get into those positions and what criteria they use
  • That male networks might be playing an inappropriate role in decision making about what is ‘excellent’
  • That gender studies is important in our understanding of the situation of women in science and research and what might work as good policies.
A more recent report summarises the progress that has been made in the last decade or so (European Commission 2010).
We now have She Figures, giving us a regular statistical review of women in science. The most recent figures show:
•      45% of new PhDs are women
•      30% of all researchers are women
•      20% professors are women
•      Less than 10% of Rectors are women in 16 countries
•      Less than 30% of board members are women (scientific, funding etc)
The Commission set targets for gender balance on scientific committees, but getting a proper balance remains a problem.
There are policies which promote a more transparent and evidence based approach to making academic appointments and promotions, and on recruiting to editorial boards and funding bodies, emphasising the quality of work produced rather than the quantity. Many universities and research institutions in the European Union now pay attention to seeking to reduce the impact of ‘gender schemas’ in unconscious bias from interfering with the focus on excellence in recruiting and promoting scientists.
There are more schemes to assist women returning to science after a career break, but they are uneven in their coverage across the European Union.
There are a range of policies in universities and research institutes to try and make them better places for women (and men) to work, such as those that seek to promote dignity at work, those aimed at reducing harassment and bullying, and those seeking to provide better support for balancing work and life.
A further range of polices seek to encourage and support women coming through the system. In the UK, the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education runs an Aurora Programme for mid-career women to encourage them to have more confidence and be more ambitious in their careers. The first cohort has 500 women members on it. Mentoring and role models are used in most of the countries to support women in their careers.
Of great significance, the European Commission has supported Gendered Innovations in Science, Health & Medicine, and Engineering, a project also funded by the US National Science Foundation, Stanford University, among others. This is designed to encourage researchers to pay due attention to sex and gender in their research. This is important to ensure that, for example, women do not have a less evidenced based medicine given, for example, they are less likely to be included in clinical trials and yet pharmaceutical products that emerge from them are prescribed to them nevertheless, sometimes with harmful consequences.
Finally, the European Commission has funded a series of Framework Programme 7 projects to focus on researching and developing good practice in the academy for women (see below). One of these, GENPORT, will be a portal of information from a wide range of sources, available for all as a resource of good practice on women and science and the development of policies.
Here are two others:
INTEGE (INstitutional Transformation for Effecting Gender Equality in Research) (March 2011 - February 2015)
  • This FP7 funded project aims to develop and implement Gender Action Plans in order for research and higher education institutions to create sustainable Transformational Change to improve the career progression of women scientific researchers.
  • INTEGER brings together a partnership of research institutions with top level commitment to implement sustainable transformational change to improve the career progression of women scientific researchers, embed structural changes and create a legacy of learning and guidance to assist other organisations in their implementation.
The partners are:
  • Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, France, (CNRS) represented by its Mission pour la place des femmes, with implementation in the Institute of Physics and the Institute for Mathematical Sciences.
  • Siauliai University, Lithuania (SU), with implementation in the Faculty of Mathematics and Informatics and/or the Faculty of Technology.
  • Trinity College Dublin, Ireland (TCD), with implementation in Schools from the Faculty of Engineering, Maths and Science.
  • Centre of Excellence for Women in Science, Germany (GESIS) will be acting as independent evaluator for the project
FESTA (Fostering Equality in the Science and Technology Academia)(February 2012 – January 2017)
  • implementing changes in the working environment of academic researchers
  • encouraging female researchers in science and technology to stay and make a career in the academy and
  • to remove some of the hurdles which make it more difficult for them than for their male peers to reach their professional goals.
The partners are: Uppsala University, Sweden;  Syddanske Universitet, Denmark;  University of Limerick, Ireland;  Christian-Albrecht Universität, Germany; Fondazione Bruno Kessler, Italy; Istanbul Technical University, Turkey
European Commission (2000) Science Policies in the European Union: Promoting excellence through mainstreaming gender equality (ETAN Report)
European Commission (2010) Stocktaking 10 years of ‘Women in Science’ policy by the European Commission 1999-2009
European Commission (2012) Structural change in research institutions: Enhancing excellence, gender equality and efficiency in research and innovation
GenSET - Recommendations for Action on women and science
Rees, T. (2011) ‘The gendered construction of scientific excellence’ Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, Vol. 36, No. 2, pp. 133–45 


Reflections on the advancement of science in the Islamic world today
Sihem Jaziri, University of Carthage, Tunisia

Today, we should admit that the economic growth comes from the advancement of technology and that the rapid development of science is due to the knowledge society. We should look at our attitudes towards science, technology and modernity, in order to identify the social and cultural practices as they impact the  progress of our societies. We should reflect on this question: how science can step into line with development ?
Indeed, we should first consider how to measure the scientific progress (no measurement means no results). The indicators of scientific progress are neither precise nor unique and we choose the following four criteria:
  • the amount of scientific production, in function of the relevance and importance of publications.
  • the role of science and technology in the National economy, as well as funding sources for science and technology, and the size of the national scientific institutions.
  • The dimension and quality of higher education addressing research.
  • The presence of science in culture.

Let’s start from the scientific production: the indicator is the number of scientific publications and their related index of citations. A study done by academicians of the International Islamic University of Malaysia indicated that OIC countries (representing 57 countries of the Islamic Conference Organization) have 8.5 scientists (including also engineers and technicians) by 1,000 inhabitants, compared to the average of 40.7 and 139.3 for the OECD countries (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, see Furthermore 46 Muslim countries have contributed to 1.17% of the scientific literature in the world, while 1.66% comes from India and 1.48% from Spain. 20 Arab countries have contributed to 0.55%, against 0.89% by Israel.  The National Scientific Foundation (NSF) in  United States showed that among the 28 lowest producers of scientific publications in 2003, half of them were from OIC. The situation may be worst if instead of the number of publications we refer to the related citations. The situation regarding patents is also very discouraging. My country, Tunisia, produces a negligible number of patents.
Regarding the role of S&T in National economy, 57 States of the OIC gives an estimate of 0.3% of their GDP to R&D, which is well below the world average of 2.4% . The largest dedicated budgets are not the only reference for research, as the ability to use advisedly these funds is also crucial. A key factor is the number of scientists, engineers and technicians available. These figures are low for OIC countries, with an average of 400-500 per million inhabitants, while in developed countries they are generally in the range of 3500-5000 ppm. The most important conditions are the quality and level of professionalism, which are less easily measurable. Increased funding without tackling appropriately these critical concerns can lead to a correlation equal to zero between funding and scientific performance. The role of science in the development of high technology is an important indicator. If we compare the scientific production with its impact on the national economy, we see that a small relation exist with the results of academic research and the role of S&T.
Thirdly concerning higher education, there are about 1,800 universities in the 57 OIC Member States. Only 312 of them have published articles in indexed journals. The ranking of the 50 most publishing universities is as follow: 26 are in Turkey, 9 in Iran, 3 in Malaysia and Egypt, 2 in Pakistan. For the first 20 universities, the average annual production of scientific publications is about 1500, a small number, but reasonable. However, the number of citations for each publication is very low (the report did not specify whether the self-citation has been excluded or not, see or This statement should bring us to specify an action plan, to re-consider the "quality" and to find new mechanisms to support the renewal of higher education institutions to global standards. The Extraordinary Session of the Islamic Conference of Ministers of Higher Education and Scientific Research in Riyadh (2011), adopted the document on "Key Performance Indicators: A Guide for Evaluation and Quality, Enhancement for Universities of the Islamic World". The quality of a research institution is fundamental, but how to define it? Providing with more infrastructure and equipment is necessary, but it is not the unique element. Professional skills are fundamental. Good teaching lessons developing appropriate attitudes are important as material resources. Academic and cultural freedoms on campus is very limited in most of our Muslim countries. In some universities films, theater and music performances are not welcome, and sometimes even physical attacks by some students who believe that such activities violate standards happen. My colleagues and I share a common observation: most of the students' time in class, have felt into silence taking their lessons’ notes; they are increasingly timid, they ask less questions or participate less actively to the discussion.
The last point concerns science in culture. Science is under pressure globally. As science becomes increasingly part of society, its achievements inspire both awe and fear: the evolution and intelligent design, the restrictions to genetic research, pseudoscience, parapsychology and belief in UFOs. The opposition to science among the public takes new forms. Anti-science web sites are increasing, some with hundreds of thousands visitors, where we can find every kind of information from quantum mechanics to black holes, the discovery of genes planned 1400 years ago. Websites to discuss philosophical implications of science are missing, regarding any topics (theory of relativity, quantum mechanics, chaos theory, super strings, stem cells, and other contemporary scientific questions of particle physics, nanotechnology). Discussing the scientific issues of global problems such as renewable energy, drinking water, ecology .... is fundamental. Similarly, discussions on science in the media are very rare as well as for example the questioning of students in science about the slowness of development.
Although the slow development of science in Muslim countries is out of discussion, many of the explanations are unclear or false.  For example, while the perception is that women are largely excluded from higher education in Muslim countries;  the figures show that their presence is similar to those of many Western countries. The percentage of women students in our universities is more than 60%, 35% in Egypt, 67% in Kuwait, 27% in Saudi Arabia and 41% in Pakistan .... In the field of engineering and physics, the proportion of women enrolled in universities is almost similar to the United States.
However restrictions for women, both in their personal life than in their career progress after graduation, are higher respect to men. The absence of democracy in many of Muslim countries is also a reason to the slow scientific development. Certainly authoritarian regimes generally dampen initiatives of investigations, of professional associations, and of universities empowerment and their contacts outside. But no Muslim government today, even dictatorial or democratic resembles to the terror of regimes such as Hitle’s or Stalin’s ones in which science has survived and even advanced.
Another myth is that the Muslim world rejects new technologies; it is not true. Some reasons causing the slow scientific development of Muslim countries can be as follow. Firstly, although a handful of wealthy oil producing Muslim countries have the most extravagant income, the rest are pretty poor and in the same position as other developing countries. Indeed, the average per capita income of the OIC is significantly lower than the global average. Secondly, the lack writing in Arabic is also an important reason. Approximately 80% of the scientific literature of the world is in English; some traditional languages ​​in the developing world are well adapted to the new language requirements. With the exception of Iran and Turkey, translation rates are low. According to a UN Report (2002) written by Arab intellectuals and published in Cairo, "the whole Arab world translates about 330 books annually, representing one-fifth the number translated in Greece". The report specifies also that in the 1000s since the reign of Caliph al-Ma'mun, Arabs have translated as many books as Spain translates in one year. But even deeper reasons are attitudes. There is at the basis a tension between traditional and modern approaches of thought and social behaviors. The advancement of science and technology requires the understanding and adoption of  complicated rules, leaving not place for beliefs. An engineer building bridges, an expert in automation and robotics or a microbiologist can certainly be a perfect professional without thinking about the deep mysteries of the universe. Only a small minority of scientists are interested to cosmology, quantum mechanics and chaotic systems, neurosciences, human evolution and other controversial subjects. Therefore, one might conclude that the advancement of science is not only a matter of infrastructures (schools, universities, libraries and laboratories) and of latest equipment but it starts from the scientific method. Cultivating a scientific mind with a critical judgment is mandatory for a successful work in all science-related fields. Only exceptional people are able to exercise such a mindset in societies where authority comes from above, where questions are asked with difficulty, where the intellect is denigrated, and all answers are already known.


Science represents an opportunity for sustainable development and peace for all people living along Mediterranean shores. The number of women, with high and creative profiles, has grown within the scientific community in Mediterranean countries. These women enrich scientific research with their own personal experiences and individual personalities. This is why every issue of the Shemera e-newsletter offers “portraits” of three researchers who have all contributed, and continue to do so, in making science an opportunity for sustainable development and peace in their countries and in the entire Mediterranean region.

Pietro Greco, Science Writer, Fondazione IDIS-Città della Scienza

Marie Abboud Mehanna, Physics, Lebanon

Marie Abboud Mehanna, 35, is Associate Professor of Physics at the Saint-Joseph University of Beirut, Lebanon. Her talent is internationally recognized: in 2009 she won the L'Oréal-UNESCO Prize for Women in Science, awarded to 15 young researchers who not only have a great potential, but have already contributed to significant scientific advancements. This year, 2014, Marie Abboud Mehanna was chosen by the U.S. Department of State among the eight Arab and Asian scientists to participate in the International Visitor Leadership Program under the Women's Innovation in Science and Engineering program.
Marie studied in Lebanon, but in 2005 she received a Ph.D. in Atomic and Quantum Physics in Paris, France, at the Université Pierre et Marie Curie, after having prepared a thesis for three years at the Laboratoire Kastler Brossel and the Ecole Normale Supérieure. Soon after she came back at home to teach physics at the Saint-Joseph University. Since 2007, and for two terms, she directed the university’s physics department. Since September 2013 she is Associate Professor.
She has a great and recognized attitude for education and training of young people. But her true passion is research. Her interests concern the optical images of structures and their applications. Basically, she uses lasers to study non just subjects of physical interest, but even of biological and agrarian one: for example, she studies the behavior of pears and apples at both room and cold temperature, or the crystals of Bacillus thuringiensis, a bacterium who lives in soil and produces spores, able to attack mosquitoes’ larvae. All these studies are of strategic importance for modern agriculture.
Marie Abboud Mehanna is persuaded that physics has important social consequences. And she tries to prove it to everyone. Apparently, with great success.


Nadia El-Awady, Science Journalism, Egypt

Nadia El-Awady, married, mother of four children, is a science journalist who loves sports, mountain, travels and who is, she says, a social media addicted.  Between a climbing and another, a bike ride and another, she writes her articles for IslamOnline.Net, the web journal she manages, she feeds her blog, chats with her friends on Facebook and tweets endlessly.
Thanks to this tireless work, she gives a significant contribution to the diffusion of science in Egypt and of Egypt to the world. Nadia is graduated in Medicine at the University of Cairo and in journalism and mass communication at the American University of Cairo. She started her professional career in 2000 as an editor of IslamOnline.Net. Her journalism is a fieldwork made by travelling. And by interpreting the journey in a sportswoman-like way, literally. She has climbed several mountains, including Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest in Africa. It is climbing the Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Europe, that she met her second husband. She recently completed a bicycle trip from Paris to London in three days.
Her life of journalist is no less intense, her career very fast. In short, she became head of the science and medicine area and then director of IslamOnline.Net. In 2004 she won the WASH Media Award presented by the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) with an article, The Nile and Its People - What goes around comes around, in which she told with passion and rigor the conditions of “the father of Egypt”, the river Nile, and his children, the Egyptians who live along its banks.
Nadia is tireless also in her social activities. She founded, along with others, the Arab Science Journalists Association of which she was the first president. She is a member of the World Federation of Science Journalists. She was co-director of the World Conference of Science Journalists held in Doha, Qatar, in 2011, and then became president of the World Federation of Science Journalists.

Assya Bousbia-Salah, Engineer, Algeria
Assya Bousbia-Salah, married, two children, is an electrical engineer who teaches in the field of early cancer diagnosis at the University of Science and Technology Houari Boumédiène (USTHB) of Algiers, with the role of Maître et Assistante chargée de recherche.
Assya obtained a diploma at a bilingual school of mathematics in 1978. In 1983 she graduated in Electronic engineering at the Ecole Nationale Polytechnique, Algeria. She is interested in nondestructive testing with ultrasound, a technique widely used in industry. In that same year, 1983, she graduated as a teacher and enters into the High Commission for Research.
In 1987 she earned a master’s degree in Nuclear engineering from the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium, and began to collaborate with the Commissariat aux Energies Nouvelles of Algiers.
Between 1988 and the 1991 she teaches Electricity and waves at the High Commission for Research of her country.
In 1993, she came back at the University of Science and Technology Houari Boumédiène, this time as a professor of Electronics and instrumentation. Yet, she continues to carry out research activities at the Ecole Nationale Polytechnique being interested, above all, in the identification of tumor cells through an advanced signal processing.
Today, she carries out her research activity at a laboratory of the Department of Biomedicine at USTHB, always in the context of advanced diagnostics. Assya is especially interested in the automatic classification of Electroencephalography’s signals.
Recent research projects in which she participated or she is still participating in Algeria focus on the analysis and processing of biomedical signals in view of the creation of an information and transmission system, as well as a support for clinical diagnosis of some specific biomedical signals.
Assya is more than ever persuaded that technology can help to preserve human health and, in particular, that electronics has a great role in the early diagnosis of diseases.


International Cooperation Projects and Events
By Flavia Zucco

The 5th IUPAP International Conference on Women in Physics ,Waterloo, Canada. 
5- 8 August 2014
This unique conference series brings together delegates from around the world to:
  • Showcase and celebrate scientific work in all areas of physics
  • Develop resolutions to address gender issues and promote the participation of women in physics
  • Provide networking opportunities to build a strong, diverse and inclusive worldwide physics community.

ICWIP 2014 will feature plenary talks by distinguished speakers from around the world, among which: Melissa Franklin, Mallinckrodt Professor and Chair of Physics, Harvard University; Silvia Torres-Peimbert, Professor Emeritus, Institute of Astronomy, Mexico City University and President  Elect of the Executive Committee, International Astronomical Union; Sabine Stanley, Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair in Planetary Physics, University of Toronto; Tsai-Chien Chiang, Editor in Chief of the China Times and author of "Madam Wu Chien-Shiung: The First Lady of Physics Research".
8th European Conference on Gender Equality in Higher Education
Vienna, 3-5 September 2014
The European conferences on gender equality in higher education have since 1998 regularly brought together hundreds of gender equality practitioners, researchers, administrators and policy makers from Europe and beyond. These conferences provide a unique international forum to discuss and exchange information and experiences, and to share research results on the changes and challenges related to gender in academia, gender equality promotion and interventions in higher education and research institutions.
In September 2014 the Vienna University of Technology invites researchers, university teachers, administrators, policy makers and practitioners and students to attend the 8th European Conference on Gender Equality in Higher Education.
The first European conference on gender equality in higher education was organized in Finland by the University of Helsinki in 1998, and since then the conferences have traveled across Europe: to Zürich (2000), Genoa (2003), Oxford (2005), Berlin (2007), Stockholm (2009), Bergen (2012), and now in 2014 in Vienna.
What has kept these European gatherings going is a network created in 1999 as a result of the first conference: the European Network on Gender Equality in Higher Education. This network keeps connected by an email list eq-uni (see separate link on how to join) with over 500 members from over 30 countries. Each conference is organized by a local organizing group, consisting of one or several universities and other stakeholders, and advised by previous organizers and the European network. Where the next conference is going to take place is discussed collectively during the conference on the basis of offers from interested future host universities.
2014 OWSD Fifth general Assembly and International Conference
Mexico, September 17-20, 2014
'Women Scientists in a Quest for Sustainability and Development' is the title of the OWSD Fifth General Assembly and International Conference to be held in Cuernavaca, Mexico from 17-20 September 2014. All OWSD Members are invited to submit their papers by 29 November 2013.
The OWSD Fifth General Assembly and International Conference will be hosted by the Ministry of Innovation, Science and Technology of Estado de Morelos, Mexico, and co-hosted by the Mexican Academy of Sciences, the National Council of Science and Technology, and the Mexican Science Consulting Council of the Presidency of the Republic.
This International Conference will bring together women scientists from developing countries around the world to highlight their experiences, approaches, and participation to scientific research, institutions and industries.
The expected outcomes of the International Conference are:

  • To increase visibility and leadership of women scientists from developing countries; To increase understanding of the role of science, technology and government in supporting the critical role of women in sustainability;
  • To encourage children and young people to take up scientific careers;
  • To strengthen networking and mentoring among women scientists;
  • To raise awareness of governments and national, regional and international organizations on the necessity of involving women scientists and engineers in projects, as well as for establishing policies for development;
  • To disseminate information about OWSD activities;
  • To maintain a continuous dialogue between the participants and other interested persons through social networks (@OWSD2014 on Twitter and OWSD2014 pages on Facebook and Google +);
  • To publish an e-book of abstracts.

November 18-19, Trento
Dipartimento di Lettere e Filosofia
EU2014 Conference on the Empowerment of the Next Generation of Researchers: Promoting talents, spreading excellence
November 12-14, Roma 
Maxi and Audtorium 
EU conference on “Science and society: achieving Responsible Research and Innovation”


Illuminated biological sample (the pear) to monitor its ripening level using laser speckle technique.
(Marie Abboud, Université Saint Joseph, Lebanon)


Fondazione IDIS – Città della Scienza, Naples (Italy)
Anne - Marie Bruyas, Pietro Greco, Michaela Riccio, Flavia Zucco
Fondazione IDIS – Città della Scienza, Naples (Italy)
Attilio Iannitto, Roberto Paura