Newsletter - June 2012, Issue 1


Women’s Roles in Science in the MPCs
SHEMERA At A Glance: Where Are We?
Women and Science for a New Citizenship in the Mediterranean

International Cooperation Projects and Events
Rashika El-Ridi
Immunologist, Egypt

Rita Giacaman
Public Health, Palestine

Zoubida Charrouf
Chemistry, Marocco

by Maria Caprile, CIREM, Spain

Equal participation of women and men in all spheres of life is a crucial element of democracy and a prerequisite for the attainment of a common area of peace, shared prosperity and equity in the Mediterranean region. As the coordinator of the SHEMERA project, I am glad to state that our aim is to support Euro-Mediterranean cooperation in a joint effort to strengthen the role of women in science and, indeed, in all spheres of life.

The project, funded by the European Commission under the Science in Society Programme of the FP7, will collect data and provide a comparative analysis on gender and science in all Southern Mediterranean countries- Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Palestinian-administered areas, Syrian Arab Republic and Tunisia. The project will focus on three key themes: statistics on women in science, gender equality policies, and research on gender inequalities in science careers.
The consortium consists of 17 partners: 6 from European Member States and Associated States, and 11 from the Southern Mediterranean countries. Well-known researchers from universities and research institutes will cooperate in the next few years to increase knowledge on gender issues in the area, to empower women in science, to enhance networking and to steer policy-making on gender and science in the years to come. In a few words, to make SHEMERA a turning point for women in science in the Mediterranean basin.


CIREM – Fundació Centre d’Iniciatives i Recerques Europees a la Mediterrània, Spain
ULB – Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium
TETALAP – Hungarian Science and Technology Foundation, Hungary
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

Women’s Roles in Science in the MPCs:
an economic, political and cultural analysis of gender inequality

by Shahida El-Baz, Arab and African Research Centre, Coordinator of WP2 (State of the Art and Methodological Approach)

Starting points: state of the art and methodological approach

It has been said that the analysis of the role of "Women in Science” in the Mediterranean Partner Countries (MPCs) should be comparable to European studies on the same subject, in terms of investigated areas as well as the causes and effects underlying female inequality in this field in both regions. Surveys conducted in the MPCs will most likely produce some common results in comparison with the European Union Countries (EUCs), such as horizontal and vertical discrimination, despite the different historical pathways of the MPCs, which produced diverse social formations. In general, the investigation of gender inequality in science would highlight differences in its roots and final outcomes. Some factors, structurally specific to the MPCs, are expected to have a real impact on the role of women in scientific research, although there are some variations among the MPCs.
This chapter will highlight these differences and relate specific results about “Women in Science" in the MPCs as well as concepts concerning gender inequality. It also refers to policies needed to achieve overall gender equality, and, in particular, in the field of science. Finally, the research methodology will be set.
Conceptually, gender inequality in science should be analyzed in connection with other forms of gender inequality which are, in turn, related to general social disparities within a specific context.  The nature of its formation determines the dynamics that produce forms of equality and/or inequality. Moreover, these dynamics generate a system of values that justifies and maintains existing forms of inequality, including gender discrimination.

Social Formation of the MPCs

Current development strategies in the Mediterranean and North African region (MENA) have been greatly influenced by a number of factors, yet oil wealth and globalization processes represent the most significant ones. During the second half of the 20th century, oil production shaped all Arab societies, which were predominantly managed by the States.
The debt crisis obliged the MPCs to adopt “structural adjustment” policies that led to a new development strategy based on free market economy and liberalization policies. The socio-economic polarization produced by these globalized policies created an exclusive development strategy, which excluded the majority of the population from its benefits. The dynamics of social and economic exclusion have led to an increase in poverty and unemployment rates. While nearly 60% of the population has become more impoverished, the wealthiest 10% has been getting richer day by day. Moreover, the polarization process has determined the gradual erosion of the middle class.
Most globalized MPCs are characterized by a kind of social “duality” that has been caused by a deep, widening gap within their populations, brought on by great disparities in terms of social services, socio-economic opportunities and standards of living. These differences are so profound that a single country seems to embrace two entirely separate worlds.
Education is closely related to the issue of gender inequality in science and technology. Policies reducing public expenditure, a result of globalized economic strategies, have led to the emergence of private, high-quality education for rich students, while the poor majority has only access to low-quality public education. This public-private duality is directly linked to the process of social polarization. It sustains and reproduces unequal access to a good education and other social and economic opportunities. In this context, women are particularly disadvantaged, furthered by the fact boys are given first priority in education and by the existence of the traditional gender division of labour. Thus, the structure of educational systems in the MPCs has deterred the poor majority, especially women, from studying or taking up any area of interest that requires a solid base of good education.
One possible conclusion is that social polarization in the MPCs, triggered by poverty and a dual standard of services and opportunities, causes gender inequality with effects on science and technology.

Employment, Unemployment and Gender in MPCs

Transformations brought about by SAP technologies (Systems, Applications and Products in data processing) in the global labour market led to the modification of labour laws to accommodate the interests of new entrepreneurial classes. Women bear the brunt of these changes as employers in the private sector tend to avoid the social cost of their employment. Women mainly succeed in finding temporary or part-time employment and are dismissed if they should become pregnant.
One question arises: why do certain development strategies structurally produce gender equality while others are structurally conducive to gender inequality?
One answer could be that a woman’s position can improve if the adopted development strategy is inclusive and people-centered, aiming to achieve the full mobilization of all existing resources, particularly human resources. In this context, the economic and social value of available human capital, including women, would become the only standard adopted for evaluating citizens and their work, regardless of gender, religion, class or ethnic affiliation.
Thus, the social and economic empowerment of women in the MPCs can only be achieved by overcoming the structural developmental problems that produce widespread and deep social inequalities, which increase the marginalization of women.
The following items indicate research subjects to be developed in National Reports, which may also be useful guidelines for other specific WPs:
     - MPCs and Women
     - Women in Science in MPCs
     - Cultural Aspects of Gender Inequality:
       Socio-economic and legal frameworks producing gender inequality
       Socialization and gender division of labour
       The legal system and gender equality in MPCs
       Cultural conservatism and religious fundamentalism
     - Suggested Policies:
       A comparison of gender inequality within the socio-economic context
       A comparison of gender inequality within science & technology
     - Methodological Guidelines for Research in MPCs:
       Research methods
       Research tools

SHEMERA At A Glance: Where Are We?
by Flavia Zucco, Biologist, Italian Association “Women in Science”, Italy
The SHEMERA project has been underway since the kick-off meeting held in Brussels, May 3-4, 2011, where initial project tasks were decided and partners were given the opportunity establish personal contacts with one another. Collaboration and true commitment on behalf of the partners requires the development of personal relationships and real communication, an essential aspect that must not be taken for granted, especially when dealing with different cultures and different political and social histories. This is the real challenge Shemera faces in its efforts to support women in science. In 1997, the European Commission began a policy for activities on “Women in Science” (recommendations, communication, reports, conferences, etc.) that lasted 10 years and was supported by specific EU projects in the 5th, 6th and 7th Framework Projects. At the EU level, this policy has allowed for the collection of an enormous amount of information, including statistics, bibliographies, policies, etc. More recently, EC policy has shifted its target from women scientists to scientific institutions in order to change policies regarding women scientists. Through these initial experiences, the SHEMERA project aims to increase understanding and create new policies for women in science and with the Mediterranean Partner Countries.
Due to the deep, underlying differences between European countries, the work that needs to be accomplished must be put into context. The Arab Human Development Report (2002) has identified three key deficits in the Arab world: gaps in knowledge of and control over new technologies, the gap in freedom and democracy, and the gap linked to women’s empowerment. Moreover, it was only in 1960 that universities and research centres were founded by central governments (UNESCO, 2010). A specific analysis is given by Shahida El-Baz, leader of Work Package 2, in the “In Focus” section of this newsletter.
The following issues must be taken into account for each specific nation:
    - Socio-economic formation
    - Mechanisms that produce inequality
    - Impact of religion, as interpreted by conservatives and political religious groups
    - Prevailing value system and its reflection on women’s status and rights in society.
    - Situation of women living in areas subject to military conflict or occupation
The second Shemera meeting took place in Barcelona, 16-19 November 2011, to discuss statistical issues, the networking plan and the conceptual and methodological approach for the next work packages. Following this meeting, experts from CIREM and ULB (Université Libre de Bruxelles) laid down specific conceptual and methodological guidelines regarding:
1. statistics: the priority area to collect data
2. policy: the structure for mapping gender equality policies and measures
3. literature: the structure for classifying research and undertaking the literature review
Statistical data will be collected according to the She figures methodology of the EU Commission, which includes the assessment of the presence of women in research, horizontal and vertical segregation, the level of fairness and the success rates of women scientists.
Policies specifically regarding gender equality in science have yet to be addressed in the MPCs. Activities successfully carried out at the EU level will certainly provide useful experience. Measures, programs or legislation aimed at promoting gender equality in science will be analyzed in each MPC. In this context, science is understood in its broadest sense, including social sciences and humanities as well as research and technological development.  Gender equality in science, instead, refers both to the level of organization (women’s balanced presence in science) and the level of contents (mainstreaming sex and gender analysis in basic and applied research). The analysis will take into account the different policy approaches to gender equality in science:
-       Supporting women: supporting women’s educational opportunities and careers
-       Promoting institutional change: transforming structures and removing barriers
-       Mainstreaming gender in knowledge production: mainstreaming gender analysis into basic and applied research
The model of reference for collecting scientific literature is the Meta-analysis project (, which has identified eight relevant topics structured into four analytical dimensions:
1. Description of the current situation of women scientists;               
2. Analysis of the gender bias in social dynamics that are reproduced in science;               
3. Analysis of issues related specifically to gender bias in scientific culture and institutions;
4. Policies related to gender equality in science.
Each MPC has also engaged in networking and has set up a specific task force with high-level representatives from public and private higher education sectors, RTD organizations and representatives from gender associations, with the objective of enhancing awareness and debate on gender and research issues in the Mediterranean area. Each MPC has already had their first meeting with their individual task force and organization for the national conferences to be held from May-August 2013 will begin in the upcoming months.
Finally, SHEMERA was presented in Brussels on January 31, 2012 at the European Parliament during a conference organized by the EPWS (European Platform of Women Scientist) entitled, “Towards a Gender Balanced Science Culture to Foster Innovation“ (
The groundwork for SHEMERA has thus been laid. The framework and theoretical instruments are available for the partners to start their work and we are now faced with the challenge of producing a comparative analysis.

Women and Science for a New Citizenship in the Mediterranean
by Pietro Greco, Science Writer, Fondazione IDIS – Città della Scienza

Of course there are many problems that still need to be resolved. And there are just as many, as Nobel prize winner in economics Joseph Stiglitz would say, “broken promises”. Nonetheless, there is no doubt that science is changing the world, and the world of science, is changing.
The new “knowledge economy” has produced an enormous amount of wealth which has become the driving force behind business and services. This type of economy has taken off because of its scientific grounds. In fact, it was created on the capacity of scientific research to continually produce new knowledge and on the capacity of the technological system to systematically use new scientific knowledge to continually renew products and processes.
In the last twenty to thirty years, the knowledge economy has confirmed the existence of “emerging economies” and hundreds of millions of people throughout the world have succeeded in abandoning conditions of poverty and deprivation. Unfortunately, many - too many- disparities still remain between, and within, nations. Even still, science has undoubtedly contributed to changing the world.
However, the world of science is changing as well. The amount of money the planet invests in scientific and technological research has reached an unprecedented level- 2% of the planet’s gross world product. More than 7 million people engage professionally in scientific research, twice as many than at the end of the 19th century. There are more scientists in the world today than the sum of all scientists in the entire history of humanity.
This enormous increase in the number of people dedicated to research poses a great opportunity, for two reasons in particular. Firstly, researchers are no longer concentrated within only a few European countries and North America, as was the case ten years ago. Today they are spread more evenly throughout the world, Asia having the greatest number of scientists today.
Secondly, an increasing number of women have become involved in scientific activities. There is still much work to be done in bringing about greater gender equality, yet the presence of women in scientific research today is unparalleled in history. The presence of women, in fact, presents an extraordinary opportunity, not only in quantitative terms (allowing for twice as many “masterminds” in the world), but also in qualitative terms. Women open up new spaces for research, not alternatives, but additional spaces with respect to the views traditionally explored by male scientists.
The Mediterranean, with all its bordering countries, is a part of this “scientific renaissance”.  New scientific forces are emerging and Turkey is a prime example. Yet from the very north to the very south of every country, women are taking on leading roles for the first time.
There is, thus, a lot to hope for and we must not downplay the presence of problems, even serious ones that require some reflection.
First of all, even though the Mediterranean area is incredibly dynamic and even holds the origins of science in the Hellenistic period nearly 2,500 years ago, the Mediterranean is barely able to keep up with the rest of the world.         Secondly, glass ceilings, even in the Mediterranean, all too often impede women from equal access and embarking on a career in science.  Thirdly, science has a great and undeniably progressive role in society in general, and within the Mediterranean. Yet all too often, knowledge is used to exclude, rather than socially include.
Finally, the cultural approach of the Mediterranean basin has sometimes been defined, in the words of the American anthropologist Christopher P. Toumey, as “banal” because it is intrinsically “pragmatist” and treats science simply as a resource for consumer products. This interpretation of science does not require a strong epistemological basis, but merely a collection of facts. It does not require critical judgment or choice, but delegates the solution of practical, methodological and, above all, theoretical problems to experts while, as Toumey says, “conjuring scientific symbols rather than leading to the understanding of content”.
This is thus a task, for reasons of sensitivity and tradition, that could involve researchers from countries that border the Mediterranean, having them participate in the creation of an extended system of new civil rights (often defined as scientific citizenship) that regard research and technological innovation as building blocks for peace, democratic development and social inclusion.
Many of the accounts introduced in this issue of our newsletter do not only demonstrate that this task can be carried out, but that many researchers in the Mediterranean basin have already begun doing so and have obtained real and encouraging results.


Science represents an opportunity for sustainable development and peace for every population that borders the Mediterranean. The number of women, capable of creative and original expression, within the scientific community, and even in the countries bordering the Mediterranean, has grown. Women do not represent an abstract category, but real people in the flesh, each with their own personal experiences and individual personality. This is why every issue of the Shemera newsletter offers “portraits” (brief biological profiles) of three researchers who have all contributed, and continue to do so, to making science an opportunity for sustainable development and peace in each of their own  countries and in the entire Mediterranean.

by Pietro Greco, Science Writer, Fondazione IDIS – Città della Scienza

Rashika El Ridi
Rashika el-Ridi, 69 years old, is a Professor of Immunology in the Zoology Department of the Faculty of Science at Cairo University.
El-Ridi studies Immunology and Immunoparasitology.

The main objective of her research is to create a vaccine against schistosomiasis, a tropical disease caused by flatworms (mostly parasitic), called blood-flukes. Over 200 million people world-wide have been affected by the disease, which has become as pandemic as malaria. El-Ridi states, “I have a hard time with the fact that we are on the verge of reaching the planet Mars, but are incapable of developing effective vaccines against malaria, schistosomiasis or tuberculosis!”
Rashika El-Ridi graduated from Cairo University and went on to achieve, in 1975, a PhD in Immunobiology at the Molecular Genetics Institute of the Czech Academy of Science at Prague University. El-Ridi has always worked hard to preserve her status as an independent researcher, which gave way to the immunobiology research laboratory she set up at Cairo University, where she has achieved two main scientific results. First, an arachidonic acid based treatment against schistosomiasis has been developed following the research of molecular mechanisms that produce arachidonic acid, a kind of polyunsaturated fatty acid that can stop schistosomiasis. The therapy created appears highly effective and inexpensive and will soon be tested on clinical trial volunteers. Second, El-Ridi’s research laboratory has identified the schistosomula larval excretory-secretory products (ESP) which may lead to the creation of a vaccine against the disease, a goal El-Ridi is certain can be reached in a few years.
Rashika el-Ridi has received several awards for her work, the most recent being the l’Oreal-Unesco Award for Women in Science in 2010.

Rita Giacaman
Rita Giacaman, 62 years old, is a Professor of Public Health and a Research and Program Coordinator at the Institute of Community and Public Health of Birzeit University in the Palestinian Administered Territories of the West Bank.
Giacaman is a well-known public health expert.

She received a PhD in Clinical Pharmacy at San Francisco Medical Centre of California University in 1977 and, in 1985, she received a master in the Philosophy of Sociology/Social Policy at the Essex University of Colchester (UK) with a focus on the issue of female health.  Despite her studies abroad, Giacaman has worked continuously in Palestine, contributing to the creation of a new approach to public health management in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, shifting attention from biomedical elements to cultural and social factors influencing health conditions. Her objective is not only to improve the health conditions of disadvantaged groups, but to build better futures for them. For this reason, Rita Giacaman founded the Institute of Community and Public Health at the Birzeit University where she still works and has been director since 2002.
In the field of Public Health, Giacaman has committed herself primarily to the rehabilitation of the disabled and in women’s health protection. She has contributed to the foundation of the Woman’s Studies Institute at Birzeit University and is one of the six members of the “Reproductive Health Working Group” (Arab World and Turkey), an advisory commission with the goal of developing a common approach to health issues in the Arab world.
Giacaman collaborates both with Palestinian institutions and NGOs. She is also one of the six members of the Lancet Palestinian Series Steering Group and has contributed to the medical journal The Lancet since 2007, in order to improve public health and healthcare services awareness in Palestine. In particular, Giacaman coordinates the Lancet Palestinian Health Alliance, which is in charge of “nurturing and encouraging a network of local and international scientists to do work that would advance the health of Palestinians in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and the wider Palestinian Diaspora” (The Lancet).

Zoubida Charrouf
Zoubida Charrouf is 60 years old. She has three children and is an organic chemistry professor at the Department of Chemistry at the Faculty of Sciences of “Muhammad V” University of Rabat in Morocco. She is considered one of the major world experts in Argania Spinosa and studies the importance of its social and ecological functions.

She achieved the Diplôme des Etudes Universitaire Scientifiques, Section Physique Chimie, at the Faculty of Sciences of Besançon University and went on to take two Specialization Classes: one at the “Ecole Nationale Supérieure de Chimie” of Lille and the other at the “Université de Provence” in Marseille.
In 1991, she returned to Morocco and obtained the Doctorat d’Etat en Chimie at the Muhammad V University. Her PhD thesis was about the Argan tree, whose berries provide the source of argan oil, which is used both for cooking and for the production of cosmetics. She continues to study the properties of the oil even today. She has been teaching chemistry at the Muhammad V University since 1995. Her research mainly focuses on the phytochemistry of medicinal plants and she obtained unexpected results through her laboratory activities.
She is also committed to promoting the social and economic potential of argan oil by supporting the creation of organizations along with the “Centre de Recherche pour le Développement International”, who hire both male and female workers to produce this luxury good.
Moreover, her research on the properties of the argan tree, native to the semi-desert areas of Morocco, could help contrast desertification processes.
Zoubida Charrouf’s work represents a precious resource for Moroccan economy and ecology and for this reason she has been nominated an eligible candidate for the Peace Nobel Prize.

International Cooperation Projects and Events
by Michaela Riccio, Fondazione IDIS – Città della Scienza.
NAS-ERA. Reinforcing Nanostructured Material Research Cooperation between the Algerian Unité de Développement de la Technologie du Silicium (UDTS) and the European Research Area (ERA)
The project is funded by the FP7 and aims at developing cooperative research between the Algerian UDTS and four European science centres, in order to increase UDTS international visibility. Their research activity will be focused on 3 main fields: the production of functional nanostructures, the development of new detection methods and the design and development of new sensors through the exchange of scientific/technical knowledge and joint experiments. (2011-2014)
MOICT. Morocco Research Advance in ICT for Water
The MOICT project, funded by the FP7, deals with the application of ICT to water research and management in Morocco in order to better respond to a country’s socio-economic needs. In particular, the project aims at improving the research capabilities of the Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdallah University in this area, making it a regional centre of excellence. Moreover, the partners want to enhance collaboration between the public and private sectors to enable better conditions for young Moroccan researchers through a targeted mobility scheme. Research results and project information will be disseminated to wider EU/Mediterranean audiences (2011 – 2014).
New STAGES Project
Under the coordination of the Italian Department for Human Rights and Gender Equality, research institutes and universities from 5 European countries are working to improve women’s roles in science and to support gender diversity in this field through different activities such as training modules on gender equality for decision makers and mentoring programs for young women scientists. This project, funded under FP7, aims at arriving at a deeper understanding of dynamics determining gender inequality and the dissemination of research results among the concerned subjects. (2012 – 2015)
In partnership with women: empowerment through action.
The title refers to programs developed within the European External Action to support gender empowerment in non-EU countries. In Tunisia, the program supports the activities of the “Association des Femmes Tunisienne pour la Recherchesur le Développement” and of the “Association Tunisienne des Femmes Démocrates”, which works to defend women’s rights and promote their equality in civil, political, social, economic and cultural affairs. The aim of this cooperation is the promotion of sensitive institutional and judicial reforms and female active participation in elections.

EU Communication Campaign on Women in Research and Innovation”. Launch event on June 21, 2012
This campaign intends to challenge gender stereotypes, aid in developing an interest in science and encourage teen girls to pursue careers in research and innovation. The launch event will take place in Brussels, at the European Parliament. Chaired by the Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, and featuring speeches from Members of the EU Parliament as well as live and video testimonies from female representatives, this event represents a key moment for raising awareness on gender equality and the gender dimension in research and innovation.

Cover images refer to the scientific research of one of the women scientists presented in the issue's portraits.
Argan Tree Berries. Professor Zoubida Charrouf is one of the world major expert in this plant properties.

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, Gabriele Nosso