Celebrating Int'l Women's Day

Thursday, 09 March 2023 09:13

The celebrations of International Women's Day and the International Day of Women and Girls in Science were truly "international" at Charles University this year – on Wednesday March 8, over 20 international women scientists who work at our university met at Kampus Hybernská to share their stories, experiences and motivations for working at the school. 

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There was great interest in the topic on the part of the women scientists themselves, as well as the audience counting more than sixty, confirming that similar activities are lacking and that there is interest in them. "We want this meeting to be the first of many: our ambition is to create a platform for international women and men scientists," says Věra Sokolová from the Faculty of Humanities, CU. 

A father and son get in a car crash and are rushed to the hospital. The father dies. The boy is taken to the operating room and the surgeon says, “I can’t operate on this boy, because he’s my son.” How is this possible? Up to 40-75% of people can’t solve this riddle because they’re unable to imagine the surgeon is a woman – the boy’s mother. This example was an opening scene in the documentary film Picture a Scientist which launched International Women’s Day in Science at Charles University

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On the occasion of International Women's Day (March 8) and International Day of Women and Girls in Science (February 11), CU Point together with the Board for Equal Opportunities of CU organised a special event dedicated to women in science, and particularly to women from abroad working or studying at Charles University. The topic attracted more than 60 participants, mostly young female and also male students.“This year we decided to celebrate truly internationally. We approached female scientists from abroad in all faculties and units of the CU and more than twenty of them accepted the invitation,” said Věra Sokolová, Chair of the CU Equal Opportunities Council, a scientist  Head of the Graduate Program of Gender Studies at the Faculty of Humanities, Charles University, and also a moderator of the evening. 

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The thought-provoking, open, and inspiring debate was preceded by a screening of the film Picture a Scientist, which introduced the topic of women in science. The documentary chronicles the groundswell of researchers who are writing a new chapter for women scientists. Biologist Nancy Hopkins, chemist Raychelle Burks, geologist Jane Willenbring, and many more women in science lead viewers on a journey deep into their own experiences in the sciences, ranging from brutal harassment to years of subtle slights. Along the way, from cramped laboratories to spectacular field stations, we encounter scientific luminaries – including social scientists, neuroscientists, and psychologists – who provide new perspectives on how to make science itself more diverse, equitable, and open to all. Using dogged research techniques and careful data collection, these women are not only contributing to our understanding of what keeps women scientists down, but advocating for a more diverse and inclusive future for all.“

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For the first time, I don't feel invisible

"When you approached me about the plans to make this year's International Women and Women Scientists Days truly international, I was incredibly happy, for the first time I felt that I was not invisible," several women scientists wrote and said during the evening. We have already written about the stories of individual women scientists from all over the world and their motivation for choosing Charles University for their current position in a previous article on the occasion of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. We are also gradually publishing their stories on social media.


The women scientists who participated in the discussion unanimously mentioned that for newcomers, Charles University is a very fragmented institution that is unreadable, especially if they come from foreign universities that have one campus and a single identity. Another obstacle is the language barrier - although the situation has improved significantly recently, there is still a lot of information or activities only in Czech.

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One of the topics discussed was the iceberg problem - sexual harassment, lower salaries or disadvantages for women caring for children are already frequently mentioned, but the vast majority of inequalities are "invisible" - underestimation, different weight of opinions, less opportunities...

It was also repeatedly mentioned during the evening that it is often not just gender stereotypes, but also different perceptions of the social sciences, humanities and so-called STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). The solution, according to the panelists, is not easy, but peer support, mentoring and role models help.

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"For the current management of Charles University, greater internationality and bilingualism is a priority," Věra Sokolová emphasised . "We would like today's meeting not to be a single event, but to create a platform to support and connect scientists from all over the world working at Charles University. It would bring a lot of benefits to all of us, because we may already miss some initiatives or problems because we are familiar with the local environment and we lack an external perspective, so we would welcome all your ideas and suggestions," added Sokolová, who herself studied in the United States and lectured in Italy and thus has personal experience in working in an international environment, of which she is still a part. "Science does not exist in a vacuum, the international environment is absolutely crucial for science and we feel that in the context of the networking and international nature of Charles University, more activities like this are an absolute necessity."

Photo: Jan Kolský

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