Though a gender divide persists in the investigation of this vital ecosystem, study reveals a recent regional increase in female authorship.
Abu Dhabi, UAE, January 17, 2024: A team of scientists at NYU Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) published new findings on the prevalence and perspectives of women conducting coral reef research across the six member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) spanning the Arabian Gulf, Gulf of Oman, Arabian Sea, and Red Sea. Their research suggests that despite the persistence of a gender divide in publication output and senior authorship position, more women have authored publications in recent years, reflecting a six-fold increase in publications authored by females over the last decade alone.
In the paper titled The growing role of women in coral reef research in the Gulf Cooperation Council published in the journal Biological Conservation, Emirati co-authors and Kawader research fellows at NYUAD Amal Al-Gergawi and Maryam Al-Memari reviewed 852 reef-related studies published from the 1930s to 2021 in the GCC. The process involved classifying the studies as either female-inclusive (including at least one female author) or male-exclusive (consisting of only male authors), while also noting key factors such as female author nationality/region, authorship position, and study country. Of the 405 female authors whose work was included in the review, 47 (11.6 percent) were interviewed. Six themes emerged from the interviews; these include history of female contributions to reef science in the GCC, success factors for scientific productivity, barriers affecting professional practice, author collaboration and credit, growing presence of Khaleeji researchers, and parachute science (i.e. scientists from the global north who travel into a foreign community for fieldwork).
While coral reef science publications in the region first emerged in 1964, the first female-inclusive journal article wasn’t published until 21 years later, in 1985. The contributions of women marginally increased between the 1990s and the early 2010s (<10 percent of total publications), but experienced a dramatic expansion after 2014 - increasing by more than six-fold over the past decade. Despite the increased inclusion of published female reef scientists in the GCC, a ratio of 1:3 female-to-male scientists was observed, with most females positioned as supporting authors. Over half of published female scientists were researchers from the Global North (65.2 percent), while researchers from GCC nations were a minority (11 percent).
“A culmination of two years of hard work, this study redresses notable methodological and geographical voids in the current literature on women in marine science. We hope researchers, conservation practitioners, and environmental regulators from and residing in the Gulf States maintain the great momentum we witnessed in recent years and accelerate systematic long-term gender parity through further structural, organizational, and socio-economic initiatives and policies,” said Al-Gergawi.
Al-Memari added: “We were very fortunate to have a glimpse into the experiences of female researchers in the field. Our interviewees pointed to success factors such as robust mentorship and convenience of an understudied region yet highlighted some room for progress. Several researchers described their efforts in initiating outreach programs and mentoring students - important work that goes uncaptured in conventional evaluation metrics focused solely on publications, thus encouraging institutions to expand their definitions of academic excellence. With Khaleejis being a minority among researchers, it is imperative to cultivate and retain local marine researchers to further support the GCC states’ transition to a knowledge-based economy and enable effective long-term conservation measures.”
The study proposes practical steps that conservation researchers, practitioners, and institutions can take to bring about more equitable and participatory practices, including promoting marine science and conservation as a feasible and locally relevant career and allocating more resources toward research funding, capacity-building training, and leadership opportunities for gender transformative development, especially early career female researchers at public institutions.
'While men have typically dominated regional reef research in the past, there has been incredible growth in women engaged in and leading research over the past 15 years,' said NYUAD Associate Professor of Biology and Co-Principal Investigator of the Mubadala Arabian Center for Climate and Environmental ScienceS (ACCESS) John Burt. 'The truly remarkable young Emiratis such as the lead authors on this paper are inspiring. It has been particularly encouraging to see the growing engagement of Khaleeji researchers, as these are the leaders of the next generation of science in the region.”