REPRESENTATION International Day of Women and Girls in Science


The United Nations' International Day of Women and Girls in Science was declared by the UN General Assembly to ensure the full achievement of and equal access to and participation in science for women and girls. This day falls on February, 11 annually. Eva Wong Nava takes a look at some picture books that celebrate women and girls in science.


When Chinese Communist Party leader, chairman Mao Zedong came into power in 1947, he said, "Women hold up half the sky.” (source) Despite his stance, it is clear that political power in China is still an old boy’s club. And so it is, too, in the field of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), and this is not just in China alone. Research shows that gender equality in these fields is still unequal all over the world. Women are still underrepresented in STEM, despite many women having attained great progress in increasing female participation in these fields through the years. The United Nations' website tells us that women researchers typically get smaller research grants than their male colleagues, despite female researchers making up 33.3% of ALL researchers.


Gender equality is important in every field of industry world-wide. Since women hold up half the sky, it is imperative that we are empowered first as girls, then as women so we can continue to contribute to the economic development and sustainable goals set out by the UN. These goals aim to “end poverty, protect the planet and improve the lives and prospects of everyone, everywhere.” (source)


I love science, though I am not a scientist. But there are two female scientists in my family: my sister, who is an internal medicine doctor and my daughter, who is a researcher in immunology and pathology. I am very proud of these two women scientists in my life. But things could have been different for them if not for dogged persistence (my sister) and an innate curiosity to understand how the world works (my daughter), and the times in which they’re practising as scientists. Though things are a little better for girls and women in science, we mustn’t take this for granted lest we think that increased participation and accessibility means equality, and we forget the women who came before us, who were tenacious, ambitious and determined to excel in science, despite societal prejudices and patriarchal perception of women.


Let’s celebrate two women scientists closer to home: June Almeida and Mary Anning.


*June Almeida, Virus Detective!: The Woman Who Discovered the First Human Coronavirus

by Suzanne Slade (Author), Elisa Paganelli (Illustrator), Sleeping Bear Press, 2021. 

June Almeida
was born on 5 October, 1930 in Glasgow, Scotland, to a working class family. Almeida loved learning about science and nature, and although she excelled in her studies, she had to leave school at sixteen. She soon found work as a technician, hired to look at diseased cells under a microscope. She progressed in her work and left Scotland to work in London at St Bartholomew’s Hospital. There, she continued to do work as a histopathology technician. She loved studying viruses under the microscope and became a virologist who discovered a group of viruses that came to be known as coronovirus. This name is familiar to us today because of COVID-19, but in the 1960s when June Almeida was a researcher, this word was unknown.


* Dinosaur Lady: The Daring Discoveries of Mary Anning, the First Paleontologist by Linda Skeers (Author), 

Marta Álvarez Miguéns (Illustrator) Sourcebooks Explore, 2020.

Mary Anning
was born in 1799 in Lyme Regis, Dorset. She is the first paleontologist in the world. She loved to walk with her dog, Tray, on the beach near her home looking for shells and fossils. Mary Anning had little formal education as was the way during the time when she was born. But, she was able to read and she taught herself anatomy and geology. You can read more about Mary Anning here.


As it was for women of her time, Anning was largely overlooked in her contribution to palaeontology. Anning was the first to discover and study the complete skeleton of a Plesiosaurus in 1823. But her findings were disputed by the “father of palaeontology”, Georges Cuvier. A meeting was held, to which Anning was not invited, and after a long discussion and debate, Cuvier conceded that Anning was right. Despite her discovery, documentation and study of fossils, her colleagues in the scientific community were hesitant and reluctant to recognise her work.


Now, let’s celebrate two women scientists further from home: Tu Youyou and Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali.


* Tu Youyou's Discovery: Finding a Cure for Malaria Hardcover by Songju Ma Daemicke (Author), 

Lin (Illustrator). Albert Whitman & Company, 2021. 

Tu Youyou
was born on December 30, 1930 in Ningbo, China. Like her female colleagues in the western hemisphere, Tu Youyou’s work went largely unrecognised until the 21st century. She is the first Chinese female scientist to win a Nobel prize (in physiology or medicine) in 2015. Tu’s discovery that artemisinin, found in sweet wormweed, could be extracted and given to cure patients with malaria was made in the 1970s. She worked in arduous conditions in China, during the Cultural Revolution, often with very basic laboratory facilities and in remote and malaria infested areas, where she travelled to research a cure. Tu combined her knowledge of traditional Chinese herbal medicines with Western medicine and found a way to meet science in the middle.

* Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali: The Accidental Doctor by Eva Wong Nava with June Ho (authors) 
and Debasmita Dasgupta (illustrator). World Scientific Education, 2020. 

Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali
was born in Klang, Malaysia in 1926. She was the first ethnic Malay woman to graduate as a doctor from the University of Malaya in Singapore in 1955 when women were largely uneducated in her country. She contributed to raising awareness and knowledge of reproductive, post-partum and neonatal health in Malaysian women, when Malaysia was a third-world country. Aside to this, she is active internationally in promoting the economic advancement and welfare of rural women and their families. Although she worked as a doctor for many years in Malaysia’s public health system, Siti Hasmah is largely known as the wife of Malaysia’s former Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamad.


I curated these books to celebrate International Day of Women and Girls in Science because I’d like to shine a spotlight on these unsung heroines. And, picture book biographies are the best places to start.

* Header illustration: Shannon Ell 

Eva Wong Nava is part of the global majority of women holding up half the sky. She writes across age ranges and genres, but is mainly known as an author of picture books. She loves writing about lesser known histories and herstories because she feels the world needs to know about unsung heroes and heroines. Eva is the Feature Editor of Representation for Words & Pictures. Find her on her website, Instagram and Twitter @evawongnava. Email her at w&


Shannon Ell is a non-binary illustrator, animator and designer based in Edinburgh. They created Miles The Cat at the beginning of lockdown to feature on their socials, providing fun and relatable PSAs. Miles is based on Shannon's rag doll cat and is also the main character of the picture book Shannon is working on. Website: Instagram:@shannon.illustrates.

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