Gender equality is a priority concern for the whole scientific community, regardless of its field, cultural background or geographic location. This is also the case for astronomy, where only approximately one quarter of all professionals are women. In some countries there are no female astronomers, whilst in others more than half the professional astronomers are female. These numbers drop towards more senior levels, suggesting that scientific careers are heavily affected by social and cultural factors and are not determined solely by ability. The International Year of Astronomy 2009 Cornerstone project, She Is An Astronomer (SIAA), has been established to address these issues and tackle the main problems.
The SIAA programme of activities was announced today during the European Week of Astronomy & Space Science at the University of Hertfordshire, UK. Boasting a mixture of international, national and local events ranging from conferences, meetings and workshops to address gender issues, events targeted at teenagers, and the central SIAA website, the variety is designed to appeal to a wide cross-section of the professional and public communities.
The official SIAA website, www.sheisanastronomer.org, provides a one-stop-shop for gender issues in astronomy and science. The site boasts five sections: profiles of living and historic astronomers; resources for female astronomers; events taking place during IYA2009; an SIAA Ambassadors' Area; and a forum where issues, lessons and challenges can be discussed, including the opportunity to question experts. The website provides neutral, informative and accessible information and will be used to advertise new events, keeping interested parties at the forefront of developments. Examples of best practices and relevant statistics will be pooled, making them accessible to the wider community. Content will be regularly added during 2009, resulting in a vast depository that will remain online long into the future, acting as an ongoing legacy.
Several of the international and national meetings arranged for 2009 feature a SIAA presence. These include the IAU General Assembly in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, meetings in the US and Egypt, a book launch in Australia, an exhibition in Germany and many local events. Spain is conducting its first ever survey of women in astronomy and has also produced a calendar featuring historic female astronomers.
IYA2009 encourages us to discuss magnificent and complex topics, from black holes to the mysteries of our Sun, but without losing sight of the core human aspects. SIAA will play its part in ensuring that the Year's impact is definitely felt here on Earth.