ProBleu and Women in Science - Earthwatch
Young girl standing outstretched against aquarium glass

ProBleu and Women in Science

Earthwatch Senior Researcher, Dr Sasha Woods, looks at how a new Horizon Europe project aims to address gender inequality issues of global water policy by actively involving women, considering gender roles in its methodology and by promoting equal participation for women in science.

Across the globe, our oceans, rivers and lakes continue to degrade due to human activities, including pollution with plastic, nutrients and chemicals, and the destruction of habitats. Mission Starfish 2030: Restore our Ocean and Waters aims to reverse this degradation by protecting and restoring ecosystems, and preventing pollution.

A lack of clean water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) disproportionately affects women and girls. Access to clean water and sanitation is essential for women’s physical safety and security, their social and economic development, their health, and their human dignity. Despite how vulnerable women are to the ongoing water crisis, water and environmental governance has historically been gender-blind. Policies do not typically account for how differently water scarcity affects women. And policymakers have failed to engage with women to put forward solutions to address the water crisis around the world.

Improving the health and governance of our waters – for both men and women – partly depends on improving ocean and water literacy and environmental stewardship.

ProBleu – increasing ocean and water literacy

ProBleu is a European project coordinated by Instituto de Ciencias del Mar (ICM) – CSIC and Earthwatch Europe, which aims to educate and empower young people and schools to take action for the wellbeing and sustainable management of our oceans and waters.

ProBleu acts to facilitate school activities related to ocean and water literacy through funding calls to enrich current school activities, and kick-start new ones. ProBleu is also adapting existing educational methods and developing new resources — including those related to citizen science — to support, strengthen and sustain school activities.

Empowering women in science

Educational activities have long had an issue in terms of becoming truly inclusive. This is a significant barrier when attempting to realise the full potential of environmental education in bridging the gap between science and society.

There are a number of issues to address. Firstly, school textbooks still overrepresent male characters, decreasing the engagement of girls and women. Although science communication has generally improved to talk about traditionally ‘masculine’ characteristics (such as individual drive) and ‘feminine’ skills (collaboration, communication and teamwork) in both male and female scientists, there is still unequal focus on combining family and career. Showing role models in their capacity as scientists is one part of the solution. Showing how roles out of work are divided and supported forms another.

Secondly, in the school context, key challenges result from the dilemma that school projects can enforce participation of girls and women but not ‘create’ agency. Simply having girls and women in the room does not automatically lead to sufficient representation of their interests. Representation requires that girls and women effectively communicate issues, and explain how water issues disproportionately affect them.

Water quality monitoring at Itezhi-tezhi Lake, Lower Kafue, using Earthwatch’s FreshWater Watch testing kits. Credit: Enock Mwangilwa

The promotion of gender equality will be pursued throughout the ProBleu project by:

  • Fostering the direct and active participation of women entrepreneurs, policymakers, authorities and scientists in the activities of the project
  • Considering gender roles, relations, and potential inequalities in the ProBleu methodology
  • Raising awareness outside the consortium by taking gender issues into account during targeted dissemination activities

The project team is gender-balanced, with more than 50% of consortium staff involved being women, including in key positions. Find out more about the women in science contributing to ProBleu.

As a woman working in science, I am incredibly proud to be working on the ProBleu project. Although there is much work to be done in educating and empowering women and girls to advocate for our oceans and freshwater, ProBleu is at the forefront of this movement.

Sasha Woods, Senior Researcher at Earthwatch Europe

Find more information about ProBleu’s resources and funding opportunities.

And if you need inspiration for a project, or feeling disconnected from our oceans and waters, watch this video.

At a glance

Sasha Woods is Earthwatch’s Director of Science & Policy. Despite a background focused on human biology, Sasha moved into socio-environmental science in response to the climate and biodiversity challenges. She now uses her investigative and analytical skills to forward citizen science. Sasha coordinates Earthwatch’s efforts in More4Nature, leading a work package supporting the 20 pioneer cases including two FreshWater Watch cases, one in Sierra Leone and one in Italy.

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