News Release

50+ countries, 300 physicists meet to address global shortage of women in physics

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Science in Public

We need all our best brains to solve global challenges.

And we need to empower women who want an intellectual life to explore big ideas. But,

  • over 99 per cent of physics students at Burkina Faso's largest university are male
  • no women have graduated in physical sciences at The University of El Salvador between 2017 and 2020
  • in Chile, the percentage of women working full time in universities and research centres has stayed around 14 per cent for years
  • Cuba is doing better, where 20 per cent of physicists are women. But that's less than a third of the overall percentage of women in the highly qualified workforce (68 per cent)
  • around 24 per cent of Germany's physics PhDs are awarded to women. And they're training thousands of physicists from other countries with 43% of women pursuing a PhD in physics being international
  • 95% of Irish students study science up to age 16 years, only four per cent of girls follow through with physics in their final years
  • the Netherlands is approaching 30% women in undergraduate physics enrolments, with steady increases
  • the United Kingdom has seen slight increases in women students from 21% in 2012/13 to 24% in 2017/18
  • Iranian women are leading the way in physics, making up around 55% of PhD candidates. And all physics teachers in female high schools are now women, further encouraging girls to pursue education in physics.

And in Australia? Women account for only 25% of Australian year 12 physics students. As they progress through university and research most fall away. A recent study in Nature noted that it will take until 2060 to achieve 33 per cent gender equity in astronomy research in Australia.

The International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP) has recognised a need to foster the participation of women in physics. This is IUPAP's seventh International Conference on Women in Physics.

From 11-16 July they're bringing together 300+ physicists from over 50 countries for a virtual conference, co-chaired by Dr Cathy Foley, Chief Scientist of Australia, and Professor Sarah Maddison, Swinburne University.

"Over the next week we will discuss what's working, what's not working, and what can affluent nations do to support women into physical science careers in developing nations," says Cathy.

"Physics underpins the discoveries and technologies that change our lives: from new solar technologies to astronomy, medical imaging to water security, reliable communication to 3D printing," says Sarah. "A strong and equitable physics community can drive economic development and empower women," she says.

"The impact of COVID on research has set back gender equity," says Cathy. "But it's also introduced new ways of working online that could benefit women. This conference is one example."

Over the next week we will be bringing you stories from the conference, with women physicists from Australia, international and developing nations available for interview.

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