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What is OWSD?

The Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World

The Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World (OWSD) is an international organization founded in 1987 and based at the offices of The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS), in Trieste, Italy. It is a programme unit of UNESCO. 

OWSD is the first international forum to unite eminent women scientists from the developing and developed worlds with the objective of strengthening their role in the development process and promoting their representation in scientific and technological leadership.

OWSD provides research training, career development and networking opportunities for women scientists throughout the developing world at different stages in their careers.


Our main programmes are:

  • Membership in the international OWSD network and in National Chapters in many countries, to unite women scientists in developing countries and provide information on opportunities, regional and local events and access to skills-building activities; 
  • Fellowships, including scholarships for women scientists from least developed countries to study for Postgraduate (PhD) degrees  in another developing country, and grants for early career women scientists to support the purchase of equipment and other expenses needed to carry out their research; and
  • Awards to recognise and celebrate early career women scientists who have made significant contributions to research and education in their scientific field.

OWSD provides support to women scientists throughout their careers. As you progress from undergraduate science through to PhD research, to postdoctoral studies and beyond, you can draw on OWSD members' experience and expertise to help you through to the next stage of your career. You can attend regional and international conferences and seminars in your research field, develop writing and presentation skills, sign up to get help from a mentor, learn what it takes to become a leader or negotiate better conditions in your department. One day you might be in a position to persuade government ministers, policymakers and heads of department that the knowledge and needs of women should be considered in the design of research projects and that women should be trained in how to use new technologies and products that could transform their working and family lives.



25 years from TWOWS to OWSD!

From an idea in 1987 at a TWAS conference in Beijing, to the framework put in place in 1988 (at an international conference sponsored by TWAS and CIDA in Trieste, Italy), to an organization with a name and constitution in 1989, to the official launch four years later in 1993, OWSD has been working on behalf of women scientists in the developing world for over a quarter of a century.

What is now OWSD first began as the seed of an idea at a conference on 'The Role of Women in the Development of Science and Technology in the Third World' in 1988. The conference was organised by TWAS, The World Academy of Science - for the advancment of science in developing countries -  at their headquarters in Trieste, Italy, and sponsored by CIDA, the Canadian International Development Agency.

218 leading women scientists participated from 63 developing countries and a study group was set up to explore the possibility of creating an organization that would champion the experience, needs and skills of women scientists in the developing world. At a further meeting in Trieste the next year (20-22 March 1989)  the Third World Organization for Women in Science (TWOWS) was established and a constitution agreed and adopted.

TWOWS was officially launched four years later in Cairo, Egypt in 1993, at the First General Assembly, sponsored this time by the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences. The TWOWS constitution was ratified at this event, and amendments made at subsequent General Assemblies.

On June 29 2010, members voted to adopt a new name - the Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World (OWSD) - at the Fourth General Assembly in Beijing, China.

The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency has been supporting OWSD financially since 1997. With Sida's generous and continuous support, OWSD has fully funded 340 PhD fellowships for women from the South to study in the South. Of these over 200 have graduated and there are currently 103 OWSD fellows onsite.

In 2012, Sida expressed huge confidence in OWSD's ability to make a direct impact on women's economic development in the South by doubling the number of awards for scholarships given annually - now up to 50 per year. These scholarships cover all costs related to undertaking research in a host country (that are not covered by the host institute), including travel, visa and health costs, tuition and bench fees as well as a monthly stipend for the awardees' board, accommodation and living expenses. In addition, Sida has identified specific activities that will ensure these women have a real chance at competing successfully in the international scientific arena -  engaging in research of the highest quality which in turn will feed into the local economy. These include an annual regional workshop in science communication skills and additional funding for each PhD fellow to travel to international workshops and conferences of relevance.


  • Increase the participation of women in developing countries in scientific and technological research, teaching and leadership (see OWSD fellowships)
  • Promote the recognition of the scientific and technological achievements of women scientists and technologists in developing countries (see OWSD awards)
  • Promote collaboration and communication among women scientists and technologists in developing countries and with the international scientific community as a whole (see OWSD networking)
  • Increase access of women in developing countries to the socio-economic benefits of science and technology (see GenderInSITE)
  • Promote participation of women scientists and technologists in the development of their country (see GenderInSITE)
  • Increase understanding of the role of science and technology in supporting women's development activities (see GenderInSITE)

Taken from the 'OWSD Statutes and Rules of Procedure' , approved June 29, 2010


Women and Science

Just 30% of the world’s researchers are women.

While a growing number of women are enrolling in university as undergraduates, many opt out at the highest levels required for a research career. This situation is even worse for women undertaking doctorates in science in the developing world.

You can get all the relevant data for your country by using an interactive tool, 'Women in Science' developed by the Unesco Institute of Statistics which presents the latest available data for countries at all stages of development. The tool lets you explore and visualize gender gaps in the pipeline leading to a research career, from the decision to get a doctorate degree to the fields of research women pursue and the sectors in which they work.  Explore the data for countries worldwide

Why is it important for women to do science?

It is well known that scientific research and advancements can lead to knowledge and products that can solve many of the problems developing countries face, including disease, food security, climate change, the impact of natural disasters and the development of a communications infrastructure. In addition, such products and innovations have a market value which can contribute to local economies, alleviating poverty, unemployment and housing shortages.

If women are not involved directly in scientific research, we lose their specific experiences and local knowledge. In many countries throughout the developing world, women have daily needs and routines oriented to their roles as main care-givers to the elderly and children. Women make up the majority of agricultural workers too, growing and harvesting food for their families, as well as collecting fresh water for drinking. If women are included as both participants in scientific research and as the beneficiaries of scientific research, the impact on children, on the elderly and on local communities will be direct and highly effective.

OWSD provides PhD and Early Career fellowships for women in science from developing countries

OWSD has been awarding PhD fellowships, thanks to generous support from Sida, since 1998. Over 470 women have received fellowships and more than 270 of these women have graduated. 

To read more about this progamme, click here.

In addition, in 2017 OWSD announced a new fellowship for Early Career Women Scientists (ECWS), funded by Canada's International Development Research Centre (IDRC). This two-year fellowship provides up to USD 50,000 for women scientists employed in selected developing countries, enabling them to continue their research at an international level while based at their home institutes and to build up research groups that will attract international visitors.

You can find out more about this programme here


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