Be strong, make others strong: Women in science share stories and ideas from around the globe and across time zones



A global event held across 13 CGIAR centers to celebrate the International Day of Women and Girls in Science provided an opportunity for women to share their achievements, lessons learned and advice on making it as a scientist and nurturing the younger women and girls in science.

Opening the ICRISAT section of the Marathon Spotlight event, Dr Jacqueline d’Arros Hughes, Director General, ICRISAT, said, “Women scientists play an indispensable role in CGIAR’s mission to end hunger by 2030. As 29% of our workforce, women power our innovations. At ICRISAT, we believe that SDGs can be achieved when full and equal access to and participation in science for women and girls happens.”

The three women scientists from ICRISAT who joined the event were Dr Vania Azevedo, Head, Genebank;
Dr Pooja Bhatnagar, Theme Leader, Cell Molecular Biology and Genetic Engineering; and Dr Rebbie Harawa, Research Program Director, Eastern and Southern Africa. Dr Vania presented a short video on the role of the genebank in conserving and sharing genetic material across time and regions. Dr Pooja talked about her work in creating platform technologies and advanced interventions for future traits in crop breeding pipelines, while Dr Rebbie described how in Kenya, she and her team successfully deployed agricultural advisories at the time of the pandemic-mandated lockdowns, via digital innovation systems.

Four points from Dr Jackie Hughes for Women in ScienceDr Jacqueline Hughes. Photo: S Punna, ICRISAT

  • Be confident about what you know.
  • Be yourself.
  • Make sure no one is recruited in a position just because of his/her gender.
  • Diversity is very important. Be different and revel in it.

Talking about ‘lessons learned’, Dr Pooja rated her attitude as a major determinant for her success as a researcher. “Your attitude doesn’t depend on your gender. My tenacity and persistence have helped me a lot in getting me where I am,” she said. Mentioning that women often face an “assertiveness penalty”, a backlash for being assertive, she said that over the years, she had learnt to blend assertiveness with fluidity in order to navigate this difficult path. She reiterated that women scientists should continue to assert themselves, otherwise their voices may be lost.

“In the global south, women play a very critical role in agriculture as well as in the home – taking care of nutrition, finances, education, childcare, etc. Therefore, it’s very important that we have women and girls in science, especially in this region, so that they can help apply a ‘gender lens’ to all these aspects,” said
Dr Rebbie. “The biggest challenge I see for women and girls in science is a lack of role models and mentors in this area. Women in leadership positions should encourage a culture of openness where younger women feel safe, supported and encouraged to pursue science.”

As for what organizations could do to better support women and girls in science, Dr Vania said, “I’d like to see better implementation of the gender balance rules so that there is actual change for the people on the ground,” stating that this event was a good beginning but more needed to be done. Dr Pooja felt that a cultural change was needed in organizations so as to support women in roles traditionally designed for men.

Apart from ICRISAT, other CGIAR centers also participated in the 13-hour session and as women across centers, geographies, ages and levels shared their stories, it became apparent that quality support during early career from men as well as women, can play a key role in building confidence and success later.

The event, held virtually on 11 February 2021, was organized by CGIAR’s new employee-led resource group WIRES (Women in Research and Science) and supported by CGIAR’s Gender, Diversity and Inclusion (GDI) Function. As noted by Ms Fiona Farrell, CGIAR System Senior Advisor, Gender, Diversity and Inclusion, in total, the event had 794 unique viewers, with between 100 and over 200 people being connected to the event at any moment throughout the 13 hours.

The session on ICRISAT women scientists was coordinated and moderated by Ms Agathe Diama, Head, Regional Information, Smart Food Coordinator, West and Central Africa and a Founding Member of WIRES; and Ms Rajani Kumar, Sr Communication Officer.

Lauding the efforts of the group, Dr Hughes said, “WIRES is an example of the innovative ways that we’re using to explore and advance gender diversity in our work. Beyond stereotypes, we have to increase visibility of women in science, ensuring that their voices are not just heard but listened to; their contributions recognized and valued. Events like these are easy ways for people to get together, make the workplace more fun, more informative and more connected to Gender, Diversity and Inclusion.”

Click here to watch the video of the session.

For more on ICRISAT’s work on gender equity, click here: Gender| EXPLOREit@ICRISAT

For more information on WIRES, email

Reported by:

Rajani Kumar, Sr Communication Officer, ICRISAT

1 Response

  1. Nice article, with truths from successful women scientists that should benefit a broad audience. We are proud to have placed two of these women in the past, and we know their impact on their organizations — Vania and Jackie. Best wishes to you all!

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