Women’s History Month is observed annually in March.
Diverse perspectives on sparking female students’ interest in pursuing science careers emerged when the Department of Sustainable Development convened its inaugural Women in Science Forum & Awards on 29th-31st March 2022 for stakeholders in the fields of science and education, as well as students, at the Finance Administrative Centre and online via the Zoom platform. Opening with a panel discussion themed, “Leveraging Saint Lucia’s Unique Female Excellence in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Education”, panelists explored the dynamics of Saint Lucia’s outstanding performance of girls in the science class, yet their low numbers in the STEM workforce.
Panelist and forensic pathologist, Dr. Marisa Jacob-Leonce, said “One of the things we notice is that women [graduates] start to fall out of the workplace. So we now have to ask ourselves, if we’re educating all these women, where are they going?”
She indicated that there are clear “societal expectations on women, not only to do well in science, do well in the workforce, but also still maintain those traditional roles; [this] is affecting our ability to do well.”
The lack of prospects in Saint Lucia and the wider region was another consideration of the panel. “Most of our women who invest in science, technology, and innovation [studies], do not live in the Caribbean because there [are] no jobs for them.” said sociologist Dr. Keith Nurse, “That’s why there’s a significant drop off from girls having excellent performance in science, technology and innovation – to having careers in science, technology and innovation with the exception maybe of the health fields and a few other areas.”
Dr. Nurse encouraged a transdisciplinary approach to education and career pursuits to address the lack of opportunity in the sciences, “We have defined human knowledge in silos. So you have the Science and then you have the Social Science somewhere over there, and then the Arts and Humanities in another location on the campus, and never shall they meet. That’s a nineteenth-century invention which we need to banish because the transversality of knowledge is where the crux of the matter is.”
Other contributors on the panel were the Education Officer of the Curriculum & Materials Development Unit, Giannetti George; Research Officer in the Division of Gender Affairs, Lindy Eristhee, and the Department of Sustainable Development’s Science & Technology Officer, Joanne Norville.
The forum’s panel discussion on Day 1 was followed by afternoon presentations and an exhibition on the theme “The role of women in developing a green\circular economy roadmap” featuring organizations: Orbtronics Saint Lucia, ECO-Carib, 7Katharsis, Choiselle, the Iyanola Apiculture Collective, and the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College.
The final event on Day 1’s agenda was a virtual presentation by Saint Lucian astrophysicist, Cheyenne Polius, who promoted the study of astronomy and made a case for space exploration from the Caribbean region.
Day 2 of the Forum featured a workshop to build capacity for a ‘sustainable sisterhood’, promoting greater networking among Saint Lucian female science practitioners. This event featured keynote speaker, Lyndell Danzie, Business Development & Training Consultant of Cerulean Incorporated, and was facilitated by Dr. Marie-Louise Felix, a lecturer at the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College. The result of this workshop was a greater understanding of the areas in Saint Lucian society where women are under-represented, and a recognition of what is required to build sustainable networks, which can support each other and enhance the development agenda of the country.
On Day 3, outstanding Saint Lucian women in science were honored in a brief awards ceremony across five categories: Special Award for Dedication to the Promotion of Science in Saint Lucia – Anita James; Post-Pandemic Resilience – Dr. Sharon Belmar-George (Chief Medical Officer); STEM Advocate – Cheyenne Polius(Saint Lucian Astrophysicist); Skin Glow – Shakira Roberts(Lotus Cosmetics); Food As Medicine – Sam Alex (Healing Foods).
The three-day engagement was part of a concluding UNESCO-funded project of the Department of Sustainable Development titled: Strengthening the Legislative and Institutional Framework for Promotion of Science and Technology in Saint Lucia. One of the project objectives achieved through these events is to inspire women and girls to pursue and excel in science, technology, and innovation, as well as to spark conversations addressing societal influences on gender and STEM. These will enhance Saint Lucia’s capacity to promote cross-sectoral development through science, technology, and innovation.