Honoring women scientists who are changing the world

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2016 L’Oréal-UNESCO for Women in Science award ceremony
2016 L’Oréal-UNESCO for Women in Science award ceremony
© UNESCO / Pilar Chiang-Joo

Five outstanding researchers received the 2016 L’Oréal-UNESCO for Women in Science awards this evening for their ground-breaking research in the life sciences. The awards were presented by Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO, Jean-Paul Agon, CEO of L’Oréal and Chair of the L’Oréal Foundation, and Professor Elizabeth Blackburn, President of the jury, former laureate and 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, during a ceremony held at La Mutualité in Paris (France). This year’s Laureates once again exemplify women’s scientific excellence and their potential for leading the global community.

We are facing unprecedented challenges today, including climate change, powering our world with sustainable energy or addressing pandemics. We need the potential of every talented mind to develop solutions for a sustainable future. Yet women too often left on the sidelines of science. While they account for 53% of graduates in scientific fields, only 28% of researchers worldwide are women, according to the recently published UNESCO Science Report, Towards 2030.

UNESCO and L’Oréal share the same powerful conviction that the way we tell the story of science will influence the way science is made” declared Irina Bokova. “For too long, women have been written out of the great story of scientific discoveries. This is a violation of human rights and dignity. This is a terrible waste of precious talent at a time when innovation has never been so necessary.”

The L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science programme was founded in 1998 with a simple aim; to ensure that women are fairly represented at all levels in science. There has never been a greater need, in our changing world, for women and their discoveries. “Through the For Women In Science programme, the L'Oréal Foundation is committed to promoting women in science who will change the world. We are determined to fight alongside them for science and to build a more beautiful world” said Jean-Paul Agon.

The Laureates’ research is improving lives and taking the scientific community by storm. Professor Quarraisha Abdool Karim is helping to prevent and treat HIV in Africa. Professor Hualan Chen’s reasearch has led to the development of an effective vaccine against the bird flu virus. Professor Andrea Gamarnik’s work on the dengue virus could lead to antivirals and vaccines, and impacts our understanding of mosquito-borne viruses such as Zika. Through their collaboration, Professor Emmanuelle Charpentier and Professor Jennifer Doudna discovered a DNA editing technique that enables scientists to remove and add pieces of genetic material with exquisite precision, opening tremendous new possibilities to “rewrite” flawed genes for treating, even curing, diseases.

In closing, Irina Bokova and Jean-Paul Agon invited the scientific community to join the movement for Women in Science, though a campaign that will be revealed publically tomorrow.