About the Author: Ralph Falzone serves as the Director of the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) Regional Office Abu Dhabi.
With funding provided by the U.S. State Department's Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), the University of Michigan-Dearborn's College of Engineering and Computer Science and its partner, the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), held a training workshop for women working in the science and engineering fields. The workshop, "Association Building and International Research Collaboration for MENA Women in Science and Engineering,” held in Abu Dhabi May 3-4, 2010, “was designed to help women from the Middle East-North Africa (MENA) region expand their collaborative efforts with their regional colleagues as well as foster partnerships with counterparts in the United States.” Read more about the workshop here.
Representing MEPI, I had the opportunity to speak on two of the panels at the event. We discussed the many challenges MENA women must overcome in order to create organizations that enable them to achieve their maximum potential as scientists and engineers. These challenges include the lack of not-for-profit legal frameworks in many MENA countries, the difficulties in obtaining funding, and like the United States, the need for better promotion of critical thinking and science literacy in primary and secondary schools. The creation of more effective women's organizations will foster a better support system to help women be successful in a traditionally male-dominated field, as well as facilitate the collaboration necessary to match pressing research issues with the proper resources.
The proportion of women who are entering the fields of science and engineering is sharply increasing in the Middle East, and in many areas, exceeds that of the United States. Soon, 40 percent of the science and engineering jobs in the UAE will be filled by women, and in many ministries across the region, 70 percent or more of the scientists are women. This workshop reinforced the need for women, not only in the Middle East region, but throughout the world, to have the necessary tools to succeed in the fields of science and technology that will help solve the problems of today and tomorrow. Workshops, such as this most recent one in Abu Dhabi, are critical in fostering the partnerships that will ensure both continued scientific progress and progress for women in the workplace.
This workshop built on the success of the groundbreaking 2007 International Conference of Science, Technology and Engineering in Kuwait that brought together 270 women scientists from 18 Arab countries and Turkey, and a 31-member U.S. delegation of women leaders. The conference galvanized a large number of regional activities, including this one.