Women and Science in the Arab World


12 May 2014


Nagwa El-Badri

Rania Siam

This video presents a panel held at the American University in Cairo (Egypt) on 27 March 2014.  The four women talk about their own experiences and include some research on women in science internationally.  Although they suggest that Egypt is not worse than other places, some of the cultural factors relating to family dynamics may need to be studied more closely.  The women are not discussing doing science, either as women or as Muslims, but about being women in labs and the issues they faced.

The presenters are (in order of appearance):  Rania Siam, the chair of the department of biology at the American University in Cairo (AUC), Rehab Abdallah, a research assistant at AUC and Sara Serag El Deen, an AUC graduate studying for her PhD in Harvard University, Nagwa El-Badri, the department chair of biomedical sciences at Zewail University of Science and Technology.  The moderator is Mohammed Yahia.

The panel was held at AUC on 27 March 2014, sponsored by Nature Middle East and Nature magazine’s Arabic Edition.

Topics discussed:  variations in child care and costs internationally; Virginia Woolf and having a “lab of one’s own”; gender biases that affect both men and women (Rania Siam specifically mentions the work Outrageous Practices:  How Gender Bias Threatens Women’s Health (1997)); problems with families: having children, permissions to travel, supportive partners; experiences of sexism; female role models; social changes that would help to overcome the patriarchal structures (not just in science).

Unfortunately, these bilingual presenters sometimes forget to speak English, and since the video does not have subtitles, those who cannot understand the Arabic will lose parts of the presentations and most of the moderation.  The first presentation is the only one completely in English, the final presentation switches to English at about 59:30.


The material on Islam is within the bounds of what Muslims have historically understood as acceptable.  It should be noted, however, that none of the speakers constructed any of the problems as pertaining to Islam specifically.

The science presented only includes general statements.  There is no discussion of how doing science might be different in North America versus Egypt, beyond having an easier time getting funding for their labs in Egypt.