French Embassy in Thailand and AIT celebrate the work of female scientists studying and working to protect the world’s seas
By Office of Public Affairs
“Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow” was the theme of the United Nations’ commemoration of International Women’s Day 2022, celebrating the work of women and girls in fighting climate change. Following this theme, the French Embassy in Thailand and AIT chose to shine the spotlight on “Women and the Oceans.”The Embassy of France in Thailand, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Thailand, and Asian Institute of Technology on March 8 organized a screening of a documentary film and panel discussion to commemorate International Women’s Day 2022.
Leading women scientists from France and Thailand, including budding scientist Maria Eugênia Fernandes Freitas, an AIT Master’s student from Brazil, took to the stage to share insights and inspirational stories of working with the world’s oceans. AIT Professor Kyoko Kusakabe moderated the discussion, with the audience joining online and onsite at the Alliance Française Centre in downtown Bangkok.
Highlighting that healthy oceans are key to conserving the health and wellbeing of our planet, Mr. Sébastien de Vaujany, First Secretary of the Embassy of France in Thailand, said: “The French Embassy is honored to organize this event to celebrate women scientist empowerment in marine and ocean conservation. It will hopefully inspire the new generation to help achieve transformative change in the sector where women have been much less present.”
The documentary film screened for a panel discussion titled “The TONGA oceanographic expedition” follows two French women scientists aboard the French oceanographic vessel Atalante. In search of shallow underwater volcanoes, Sophie Bonnet – an oceanographer at France’s Research Institute for Development (IRD), and Cécile Guieu – an oceanographer from French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), led the expedition to understand and anticipate the consequences of trace elements from shallow hydrothermal sources to determine their potential impact on marine productivity and the biological carbon pump.
“As we have seen from the excellent documentary film, less than 30% of the world’s oceanographers are women,” said Prof. Kyoko Kusakabe as she opened the panel discussion session. Noting that it was rare for women to be the principal investigators of a large scientific project seen in the film, she added: The team that they have composed is really an encouragement for women researchers.”
From personal stories of how each panelist became interested in the oceans to why the oceans are important to our survival, the panelists shared accounts of challenges they have faced as women scientists. Dr. Nitsara Karoonuthaisiri reminded the audience to “just be yourself, don’t worry about what the society expects of you because there’s too much expectation of a woman.” It is simply impossible to be a good wife, good mother, and good scientist at the same time without support from others. “To survive,” Dr. Karoonuthaisiri added, “get a good support.”
To conclude the discussion, Prof. Kusakabe asked the panelists to share their thoughts on how to save the oceans. Dr. Claire Lajaunie, joining the discussion online from France, stressed the importance of what can be done on an individual level, particularly our everyday behavior. By reducing consumption, the production of products that cause marine pollution can be reduced, she said. Agreeing with Dr. Lajaunie, Mrs. Maria Eugênia Fernandes Freitas added that at the policy level we could incentivize companies that adopt circular economy models and penalize those causing marine pollution through hefty fines.
A Marine Plastic Abatement (MPA) student, Mrs. Freitas, stressed, “The oceans act as a climate regulator. As we saw from the documentary, they have absorbed 25-30% of the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere over the last 200 years. We need to save the oceans for us to be alive.”
- Dr. Claire Lajaunie, Doctor of Law, HDR-accreditation to supervise research working for the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research at the LPED – Population-Environment-Development Laboratory in Marseille, France.
- Dr. Suchana “Apple” Chavanich, Associate Professor, Chulalongkorn University – Faculty of Sciences, Thailand.
- Dr. Nitsara Karoonuthaisiri, Honorary Professor, Queen’s University Belfast, UK, and Principal Researcher, National Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (BIOTEC), National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA), Thailand.
- Mrs. Maria Eugênia Fernandes Freitas, Master’s Student in Marine Plastics Abatement program, Asian Institute of Technology, Thailand.
- Prof. Kyoko Kusakabe, Professor of Gender and Development Studies at Department of Development and Sustainability, School of Environment, Resources and Development, Asian Institute of Technology, Thailand.
Watch: “The TONGA oceanographic expedition”