Filipina scientist earns grant from L’Oreal, UNESCO

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Dr. Charissa Ferrer, a Chemical Oceanographer was awarded National Fellow by For Women in Science Philippines 2018.

“The Philippines is one of the few countries in Asia that has achieved gender equality in the field of science…But, there is still much to be done to improve the advancement of women scientists in the country as, according to a UNESCO report, the Philippines has only 189 researchers for every one million Filipino.”

L’Oreal proves that it is more than just a cosmetics brand, but a company that advocates both beauty and science. Together with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), it has carried out the “For Women in Science” program, which recently provided a research grant to Filipina marine scientist Dr. Charissa Ferrera.
Ferrera is currently looking into ways to effectively communicate the quality of waters in fishing areas, especially to locals who depend on it for their livelihood.

“For this grant, we will do development of health report cards that will translate research results into a form that’s more relatable to local communities,” Ferrera explains.

Using the coastal waters of the municipalities of Bolinao and Anda in Pangasinan as study sites, Ferrera seeks to address the rampant fish kills in the area by examining the root of the problem — the growth of harmful algal blooms (HABs) that pollute aquatic ecosystems.

“These HABs are a result of over-enriching the water with nutrients, caused by too much feeds that are put inside fish cages and fences,” Ferrera says.

On receiving the ‘For Women in Science’ national fellowship, Ferrera shares, “I see my win as an opportunity to create a ripple effect that will inspire more individuals to pursue careers in science.”

(Wo)manning the lab
Ferrera, a post-doctoral researcher at the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute (UP MSI) says she hasn’t encountered any problems from being a woman in their lab. According to her, ““At MSI, there are many women scientists, and they are all very hardworking in terms of solving problems related to the environment.”

Her observation is consistent with the results of a recent World Economic Forum report, saying that the Philippines is closing the gender gap at 79 percent, and ranks 10th out of 144 countries in doing so.

“The Philippines is one of the few countries in Asia that has achieved gender equality in the field of science,” says Thibault de Saint Victor, managing director of L’Oreal Philippines.

But, there is still much to be done to improve the advancement of women scientists in the country, as according to a UNESCO report, the Philippines has only 189 researchers for every one million Filipino. “This is basically half of what UNESCO recommends, globally,” de Saint Victor notes.

The ‘leaky’ pipeline
Professor Shahbaz Khan, the director for UNESCO’s Regional Science Bureau for Asia and the Pacific, says, “We are losing skilled women in the sciences through the ‘leaky pipeline.’” The latter illustrates that, while the Philippines produces a large percentage of women who graduate with a degree in science and technology, we tend to lose them along the way for varied reasons — domestic responsibilities at home, or lack of support from families.

Women for women
An event that gathered together women in the sciences, students, and the rest of the local scientific community hoped to inspire more women to move forward with their scientific careers despite the challenges surrounding them.

Dr. Laura David, an FWIS Philippines National Fellow in 2011, and a physical oceanographer/professor at the UP MSI explains that it helps for Filipinos have a large social network. “While there’s still the drive for us, women to be primary caregivers, we have an extended family who helps us carry out roles at home — like our husbands, and our parents.”

“It also beneficial to have child-care facilities and wellness centers inside our workplaces that allow us to take care of our families, at the same time, do our research, our work,” David adds.

On the other hand, Dr. Marieta Sumagaysay, executive director of the National Research Council of the Philippines, calls for gender sensitivity in workplaces, starting at the management level.

For both Dr. Aletta Yñiguez, an assistant professor at UP MSI, and Dr. Didith Rodrigo, a professor at the Department of Information Systems and Computer Science at the Ateneo de Manila University, girls should never lose the support from their families since day one of developing their interest in the sciences.

The ‘For Women
in Science’ program
L’Oreal and UNESCO founded the ‘For Women in Science’ (FWIS) program in 1998 to empower more females to pursue their careers in the field of science. It provides scientific aid in the form of distinctions and research grants.

To date, the program has provided support to more than 3,000 women scientists from 117 countries and celebrated over 100 renowned scientists at the peak of their careers, including three who went on to win a Nobel Prize.

FWIS selects and recognizes laureates for international awards and national fellowships. It also awards young girls who become an inspiration for others to pursue scientific careers.
Visit http://www.forwomeninscience.com/en/home to know more about L’Oreal and UNESCO’s “For Women in Science’ Initiative.