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Women scientists share knowledge and initiatives to address COVID-19

03 - Good Health & Well Being
05 - Gender Equality
09 - Industry Innovation and Infrastructure

When :

from Tuesday 2 June, 2020
to Tuesday 2 June, 2020

Contact :

Annapaola Coppola (ap.coppola@unesco.org)

The global crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic highlights the critical role of science technology and innovation in better understanding, containing, curing and preventing the pandemic. Timely sharing of reliable scientific data and international scientific collaboration is key and, must be as inclusive as possible. A webinar organized for the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Alumnae Network provided an opportunity to share knowledge and explore potential collaboration among leading women experts in virology, epidemiology, and relevant disciplines awarded through the For Women in Science Programme.

Organized on 2 June 2020 by UNESCO in collaboration with the Fondation L’Oréal under the title “Sharing Knowledge and Actions on COVID-19”, this webinar was the first online experts meeting with and for the international network of L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science (FWIS) Programme Alumnae. With 112 laureates, 300 International Rising Talents and International Fellows and more than 3000 national and regional Young Talents from over 100 countries, the FWIS network is a benchmark of scientific excellence on international scale.

Over 80 women scientists of the FWIS Alumnae network, along with some 20 members of  the FWIS International Juries, UNESCO, L’Oréal and OWSD staff, virtually gathered and exchanged about the status of current research and actions taken at national and regional level in response to the current global health crisis. Several laureates of the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science International Awards presented the current status or research on COVID-19 in their fields of expertise, and actions taken at national and regional level in response to the global health crisis. They included Professor Susana López Charretón (virology), Professor Hualan Chen (animal epidemiology), Professor Firdausi Qadri (immunology and infectious diseases), Professor Edith Heard (epigenetics), Prof. Abla Mehio Sibai (epidemiology), and Professor Quarraisha Abdool Karim (epidemiology).

In her welcome remarks, Alexandra Palt, Chief Corporate Responsibility Officer and Executive Vice-President of the Fondation L’Oréal, pointed out to the impact of the current health crisis on women scientists, including inequalities in the publishing records and low representation in governmental scientific advisory committees for COVID-19. She also briefly presented some of the key emergency measures taken by the Fondation L’Oréal in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Shamila Nair-Bedouelle, Assistant Director-General for Natural Sciences, recalled the Organization’s commitment to foster international scientific collaboration and science diplomacy. She expressed UNESCO’s deep gratitude to the Fondation L’Oreal for their long-standing partnership and continuous support in promoting the pivotal role of women in science, and underlined UNESCO’s belief that the community of outstanding FWIS experts should be further involved in the Organization’s activities and work in science for society.

The experts’ discussion was chaired by Peggy Oti-Boateng, Director of the Division of Science Policy and Capacity-Building within the Natural Sciences Sector, and moderated by Ana Persic (UNESCO) and Elisa Simonpietri (Fondation L'Oréal) Executive Secretaries of the L’Oréal-UNESCO FWIS Programme.

From Bangladesh to Mexico, from China to South Africa, Lebanon and Germany, the invited speakers provided some insights on their research work and the key scientific initiatives and challenges related to the COVID-19 health crisis in their respective institutions and countries.

Professor Susana López Charretón, Professor of virology at the Institute of Biotechnology of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), introduced the audience to the key properties of the new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 and the timeline for the production of new treatments and vaccines.

Professor Hualan Chen, Professor at Harbin Veterinary Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Science, presented her current research on the susceptibility of domestic and model laboratory animals to COVID-19.

Doctor Firdausi Qadri, Senior Director of the Infectious Diseases Division at the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research Bangladesh (icddr,b), and Lead of ideSHi (Institute for Developing Science and Health Initiatives), presented the COVID 19 activities undertaken by her research institutions and risks and mitigation of COVID-19 infection in Bangladesh.

Professor Edith Heard, Director-General of the European Molecular Biological Sciences Laboratory (EMBL), introduced the main COVID-19 related actions of EMBL, notably the open access EMBL’s COVID-19 data portal.

Professor Abla Mehio Sibai, Professor of Epidemiology at the American University of Beirut (AUB) and Co-founding Director of the ‘Center for Studies on Aging’ and the AUB University for Senior Program (Lebanon), focused her presentation on the heightened ageism during the pandemic and the actions to address it.

Professor Quarraisha Abdool Karim, Associate Scientific Director of the Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA), and member of the ministerial committee advising President Cyril Ramaphosa, presented the science response to COVID 19 in South Africa and underlined the critical importance of maintaining public trust and taking into consideration health, social, and economic damages in policy and decision-making, as well as the need for national investments in STI.

During the open discussion with the audience, the FWIS scientific community agreed on the need to provide a platform for experts to exchange information, resources and knowledge, particularly when it comes to global health emergencies as the COVID-19 outbreak. The webinar was applauded as an enriching opportunity to learn from other experts’ experiences, to tighten the bonds between the exceptional scientists of the network, but also to better understand the key role played by science and scientists in national, regional and international responses to such crises.

UNESCO and the Fondation L’Oréal confirmed their joint commitment to further support women’s participation in science and anticipated the organization of regular meetings with the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Alumnae network to discuss science and bolster women scientists’ regional and international networks.


Since 1998, the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science (FWIS) Programme recognizes the outstanding achievements of eminent women scientists, and encourages young women researchers throughout their scientific careers through the L’Oréal-UNESCO International Awards, the L'Oréal-UNESCO International Rising Talents Programme, and the L'Oréal-UNESCO National and Regional Young Talents programmes. With 112 laureates, 300 International Rising Talents and International Fellows and more than 3000 national and regional Young Talents from over 100 countries, the FWIS network is a benchmark of scientific excellence on an international scale and has been used over the years not only as a platform for an increased participation of women in science, but also as an instrument to value their vital contribution to the advancement of scientific knowledge and its applications for sustainable development and human well-being.