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Women Leaders, Innovators, Friends, and Mentors: Building a Science Partnership Network

Paula J. Dobriansky, Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs
Remarks to the Conference of Women Leaders in Science, Technology, and Engineering
Shuwaik, Kuwait
January 9, 2007

Thank you, your Excellency Dr. Ma'souma Al-Mubarak, for that introduction. It is an honor to be introduced by Dr. Ma'souma, the first female Cabinet minister in the history of Kuwait. In academia and in government, she has helped lead the way for women both by example and through her work. Please join me in recognizing her for her exceptional achievement.

I am delighted to be here today at this groundbreaking event--the inception of what is sure to become a vibrant partnership network of women leaders, innovators, friends, and mentors in the field of science.

I want to thank Prime Minister Shayk Naser Mohammad Al-Sabah for his generous patronage of this conference. Our host country, Kuwait, has been an essential partner in embracing and advancing this initiative. I thank our co-hosts, the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences, in particular its Director, Dr. Ali Al-Shamlan, and his staff. Thanks also go to Hayfaa Almudaf of the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research and Chairperson of the Organizing Committee, to Dr. Ameenah Farhan of Kuwait University, Chairperson of the Scientific Committee, and to everyone at KISR for their efforts in making this conference a success.

The United States has been pleased to work with our Kuwaiti friends on the development of this forum and a number of scientific endeavors. For example, the U.S. Geological Survey and the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research recently worked together to draft a seismic hazard assessment of Kuwait. As a follow-on to that assessment, the Institute will host the Gulf Seismic Forum in March of this year.

I would also like to thank the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the U.S. co-sponsor of this conference, and particularly its Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Alan Leshner, for their support and partnership, and the team at the U.S. Embassy here, led by Ambassador Richard LeBaron, and at the Department of State in Washington, that has worked so closely and well with our Kuwaiti colleagues. Bob Senseney, Senior Advisor in the Office of Science and Technology Cooperation, who unfortunately is unable to be with us today, has played a significant role, and I am grateful to him.

Advances in science and technology have enormous influence on global and national economies. Innovation helps create solutions to pressing problems in a wide array of areas, including public health, the environment, communication, and transportation. Science and technology also helps individuals raise themselves up by allowing them to develop their skills and gifts.

The Middle East has a long and deeply significant history of scientific achievement. Much of our knowledge base in mathematics, astronomy, medicine, and other scientific fields derives from several centuries of work by Arab and Muslim scientists.

Today, science does not reside in one region or another, but has become truly global. However, not all parts of the world benefit equally. In a recent study, the Organization of the Islamic Conference identified a "scientific output gap" in much or most of the Islamic world.

One of the goals of this conference is to help narrow that gap by empowering scientists from this region. An equally important goal is narrowing the global gender gap in scientific output. The rights and advancement of women are not quote-unquote "women's issues." They are important to us all, woman or man, regardless of religion or nationality. Kuwait has expanded women's rights; as you know, the Parliament passed historic legislation granting Kuwaiti women full political rights in 2005, and last year, Kuwaiti women voted and ran for office for the first time.

Women's rights and empowerment are fundamental building blocks of responsible, accountable government, prosperity, and stability. No society can realize its potential when half its population lacks a strong voice, and--crucially--no country can fully compete in today's competitive, globalized economy when half of its human capital is marginalized or limited. The World Bank estimates that countries can increase their GDP growth by one percent just by increasing women in the workforce, and by up to 19 percent when more women own their own businesses. Scientific and technological innovation underlies long-term growth in the modern-day economy, and fostering women's participation in those fields helps spur a country's economic success.

It is inspiring to see women here from so many countries, representing a truly impressive cross-section of activity and endeavor, including the scientific, educational, entrepreneurial, and government fields, from senior to student levels. As President Bush has said, history is altered when strong women stand up and lead. You have stood tall, and you are already helping to lead your countries into the future.

U.S.-Regional Cooperation: S&T Agreements and Scientific Freedom
The creation of a science and technology policy that is coherent and consistent with practices elsewhere in the world will help countries become innovative and knowledge-based societies of the 21st Century. To develop partnerships toward that end, the U.S. government is reaching out to countries around the globe to sign science and technology agreements.

The United States remains a world leader in sharing advances in science and technology. We collaborate with many nations around the world and have signed science and technology agreements with a number of countries represented here today, including Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, and Turkey. In 2005, we celebrated 10 years of scientific collaboration under the Science and Technology Cooperation Agreement with Egypt. There are also ongoing science cooperation negotiations with Jordan and Saudi Arabia. In other countries, we have technical agency agreements and exchange of scientists.

Science and technology dialogues between the United States and your countries are excellent ways to establish an integrated relationship. All of these agreements, and the exchanges that follow, are powerful not least because they serve our mutual interests. Shared innovation and efficiency helps us all. And these agreements, together with the diplomacy that surrounds them, encourage an environment supportive of free inquiry, scholarship, and development.

The Conference
This conference is the first of its kind. It breaks ground in a number of areas. It builds upon bilateral agreements to establish a larger grouping that seeks open exchange on innovation. Multilateral cooperation helps everyone, giving scientists and researchers access to places, people, and ideas that are critical to scientific progress. This gathering is also the first to bring women leaders in the sciences from the Muslim world together with their sisters from the United States. International science cooperation is at its best when it provides opportunities for women, and draws on their resources and strengths, thus greatly expanding our capacity for achievement and the dissemination of new developments.

Gender and Science
Historically, women have faced barriers when pursuing a career in science and technology. Building strong networks and partnerships of women scientists, entrepreneurs, leaders, and students, both at home and abroad, will play an important role in bringing down the barriers that women in so many countries encounter.

Obstacles to a career in science is a problem that we have faced in the United States, and one that many of the American participants in the conference have overcome. In 2001, nine of the top U.S. research universities recognized that institutional barriers still exist for women. A survey of women recipients of the National Science Foundation ADVANCE Award, an award recognizing individuals for their work in S&T fields, stated that chief among the obstacles was finding a balance between work and family, but that women scientists also felt they had to work harder to achieve the same level of recognition as their male counterparts, and experienced a lack of mentoring. Women scientists continue to face challenges in academia. In 1995, only ten percent of tenured professors in science and technology were women. These are the tough issues that we are here to face together.

An example of overcoming obstacles is one of the great American women of science, Gertrude Belle Elion. A research scientist, she was the co-recipient of the 1988 Nobel Prize in Medicine for her efforts to create drugs to combat leukemia, herpes, and autoimmune disorders. She was not given the opportunity to work in her chosen area until shortages of expert scientists during WWII helped to create opportunities for women.

I'd like to highlight some of the many women with us today who are stars in their fields. We are fortunate to have many distinguished women here, but I will mention just a few.

In Algeria, Dr. Dalila Boujemaa is the Director General of Environment at the Ministry of Environment and Land Development. With her determination and outstanding skills as a science administrator, she is an inspiration for young people and a great motivator on environmental issues in the region.

Dr. Athraa Hassoon is a young assistant professor at Baghdad University in the field of molecular genetics. She is a lecturer, and worked in the past in medical laboratories in hospitals in Iraq. We were extremely pleased that she was chosen to participate in an international visitors program in the United States in 2004. She has continued to pursue her calling as a leader, building her network and partnerships with women leaders in Iraq and the region.

Janet Kavandi is a veteran NASA astronaut--she was not exactly risk adverse in selecting a career. Chemistry was her chosen field of study, and she has created for herself opportunities to apply her knowledge and skills, not just in space flight, but by inventing and designing.

From Morocco, Dr. Itimad Soufi is head of radiological safety programs at the Moroccan Centre National de l'Energie des Sciences et des Techniques Nucleaires. She has built the radiation program in Morocco not just at the laboratory level, but at the national level, and has set the standards for national radiation protection. She is an excellent role model and mentor.

Anne Stevens is a woman of strength and resilience. In November of 2004, Fortune magazine named her one of America's 50 Most Powerful Women in Business. At the time, she held a senior Vice Presidency at Ford Motor Company, and was soon to be the highest-ranking female executive in Ford's history.

An engineer by training, Anne was the leader in delivering the tough-love message that a turn-around was needed at Ford.

Anne is now President and CEO of Carpenter Technology, a leading manufacturer of specialty alloys, including stainless steel, titanium, and other engineered products made from metallic and ceramic materials.

I can go on and highlight the many impressive achievements of each conference speaker and participant. I am certain that both individually and collectively, your accomplishments are all the more impressive for having been attained while overcoming considerable barriers. You are indeed pioneers.

Public-Private Partnerships
The speakers and participants here this week represent not only a wide range of disciplines, but also represent both government and the private sector, from university administrators to entrepreneurs. That diversity of experience is key.

Government-to-government cooperation is important, but collaboration between the public and private sectors, and among the various private sector fields, is critical to innovation. By leveraging the complementary resources, capacities, and strengths of governments and private organizations and individuals, we give ourselves the ability to accomplish far more than any of us could achieve alone.

U.S. universities and businesses have joined forces with public and private entities in our own country and abroad to help find solutions to problems and increase our scientific knowledge.

In Kuwait, for example, the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government's Kuwait Program Research Fund offers support for advanced research in a number of important areas, including water resources, oil and petrochemicals, environment, public health and disease treatment.

U.S. private companies and the government of Kuwait have worked closely in cleaning up oil lakes and degraded coastal areas.

Just a few weeks ago, a team of U.S. maritime museum experts--comprising government, university and private experts--returned from Algeria. They reported that their workshop on how to establish a national-level museum on maritime sciences and the marine environment was successful--even "electric." Both sides benefited, and are eager to pursue follow-on activities.

Science Education
We are focusing in the United States on improving science and mathematics education both at home and abroad. To do so, we will look beyond our borders for best practices, and seek partnerships with you to advance science and mathematics education globally. For our part, we will continue to offer support for talented young people interested in science.

We must also ensure broad participation in science and math education--including by women and girls--so that we nurture intellectual capital to the fullest extent possible. Science education provides opportunities for upward mobility, and gives young people tools to think critically and understand the world around them. Let us work together to educate young people--especially girls--in math and science.

That effort is already underway. Last year, two students from high schools in Kuwait participated in a prestigious summer science program for academically talented high school students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. They were two of 36 international students selected to join 53 American students at the program, which combines classroom instruction in the sciences with research mentorships with top scientists from American universities and corporations.

The Fulbright Program, sponsored by the Department of State, is the U.S. government's flagship exchange for students, scholars, and professionals from the United States and more than 150 countries around the world.

The program awards approximately 6,000 fellowships each year for study, teaching, research, and professional activities, and has a long tradition of leadership in the sciences, with 36 Nobel Laureates among its alumni.

Just this year, the Department of State announced a new International Fulbright Science and Technology Award for outstanding students. The award, for Ph.D. study at top U.S. institutions in science, technology, and engineering, is designed to be among the most prestigious international scholarships in science and technology.

Seventy countries, including Kuwait and 10 other countries in the Middle East and North Africa, put forward 119 nominations. There were 27 award winners, including awardees from Egypt, Lebanon, and Turkey. Forty-four percent of the winners are women.

One of those women is Ms. Helen Saad of Lebanon. Helen's field is biomedical engineering. Helen, will you please stand to be recognized.

Ms. Saad and her cohorts were selected after a rigorous, multi-tiered process consisting of in-country competition and review, field and discipline merit review by top-level U.S. academic leaders and then by a blue ribbon Advisory Panel. Congratulations, Helen!

Doha Conference: Opportunity for Further Collaboration
Maintaining interest and enthusiasm in science and technology, and for a strong role for women in those fields, is not automatic, and can only be promoted by specific courses of action, particularly collaborative efforts like this one. I hope that this forum will energize all of us to renew our commitment to ensuring that women play an increasingly important role in science around the globe, and especially in the Middle East and North Africa.

The next Doha Science and Technology Symposium, scheduled for February 17-19, 2007, will provide a further opportunity to define and implement a path to advance cooperation in science, technology, and engineering in the region. I hope many of you will attend.

Secretary Rice has said: "let us work for a world where all women and girls can pursue their dreams and live up to their potential."

It is in all of our interests--men and women, in the public and private sectors--to encourage women to study science, engineering, and mathematics, and pursue careers in those fields. We can help by building strong science networks, seeking out public-private partnership opportunities, promoting women's leadership and mentoring roles, and increasing access to science education for youths, especially girls.

Science and technology empowers individuals, and empowerment gives hope--which is the antithesis of many of the problems that fuel the world's current conflicts.

Creative minds are precious resources. They should be free to seek out and solve problems, without respect to gender. Let us continue our work together to encourage individuals to join the community of science, and to build a network of friends, leaders, mentors, and innovators.

Released on January 18, 2007

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