For women everywhere, breaking into the STEM field—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—is tough enough. But pile hunger and poverty on top of gender bias? Sounds almost impossible.
It’s not, as has been demonstrated by many formidable women from the developing world. On Sunday in San Jose, California, the oldest scientific organization in the United States, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, honored five of them: one mathematician and four physicists from Sudan, Nigeria, and Vietnam. Despite the odds, they’ve shown that their fields would not be as strong without the contributions of women, who face many obstacles getting into and advancing in the male-dominated world of science.
In the U.S., men are twice as likely as women to be employed in STEM. It’s worse for minorities: Only about one in 10 employed engineers is a woman of color. A new study from the University of California Hastings College of the Law found that female African American and Latina scientists encounter bias so entrenched that they’re regularly mistaken for janitors.
The numbers are dire, but programs to encourage girls’ interest in science established recently are a step in the right direction. The women celebrated by AAAS this year prove that such investments are well worth it.
The best part about these five? They’re just getting started. Meet this year’s recipients of the Elsevier Foundation Awards for Early Career Women Scientists in the Developing World.
1. Rabia Salihu Sai’id, Nigeria
Ten years after finishing secondary school, Sai’id began college while taking care of her three young children. Now a mother of six, she’s the deputy dean of student affairs at Bayero University in Nigeria. Sai’id is simultaneously researching ways to solve the country’sdeforestation problem and helping gather atmospheric data as part of a government project. “I tell this story to young girls in northern Nigeria who are married and want to go back to school. I tell them that they can do it,” she said in a statement. “In some areas of our country, girls’ education is struggling to be recognized. This award will demonstrate how women can contribute to our society for the greater good.”
2. Mojisola Usikalu, Nigeria
As a senior physics lecturer at Covenant University in Nigeria, Usikalu researches the health effects of radiation. She works to encourage young women in her country to study physics and hopes that her recognition will show that “hard work does get rewarded.”
3. Nashwa Eassa, Sudan
Eassa is an assistant professor of physics at Al Neelain University in Sudan, and her research includes developing methods to use solar radiation for water treatment. “[This] prize is very encouraging for Arab women and will show girls in my country that they can achieve their career goals, too,” she said.
4. Mojisola Oluwyemisi Adeniyi, Nigeria
As head of the atmospheric physics and meteorological research group of the department of physics at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria, Adeniyi helped determine the best time to plant staple crops in the country and to make climate models more precise.
5. Dang Thi Oanh, Vietnam
Coming from a poor background, Oanh worked her way up to head of the division of science at Vietnam’s Thái Nguyên University of Information and Communications Technology. She has developed algorithms that are used in artificial intelligence. Her recognition, Oanh said, shows that it’s “possible to escape from hunger and poverty.”