Bangladesh's Gawsia Wahidunnessa Chowdhury and five more researchers have been awarded the 2022 OWSD-Elsevier Foundation Award for early-career women scientists in the developing world.
The award is a recognition of their contributions to research that is helping tackle climate change and advancing the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) including SDG13 (Climate Action), SDG14 (Life Below Water) and SDG15 (Life on Land).
The winners' research explores a wide range of environmental impacts and their potential solutions: from turning waste into man-made soil; transforming plastic pollution into viable products for community trade; harnessing the power of microbes to improve carbon storage and soil quality; and using the right types of plants with roots to help prevent soil erosion and encourage soil "plasticity."
Dr Gawsia, professor of zoology at the University of Dhaka (DU), has won the award in biological systems and organisms for her work on the conservation of aquatic ecosystems and threatened species in Bangladesh.
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Her work focuses on assessing the extent of and the risks from plastic pollution, which is closely linked to climate change. Microplastics and other plastics enter the waterways in Bangladesh from fishing nets, among other sources, and are harmful to threatened species and habitats.
The prize also acknowledges the scientists' commitment to leadership, mentoring and engagement within their communities, including the use of innovative technologies in their research.
Dr Gawsia is leading an effort to educate women in poor and marginalised fishing communities about how discarded Nylon-6 fishing nets can be turned into value-added products such as carpets and clothing, creating an alternative income source for the communities while protecting the wetland habitats.
"Winning this award is like a promise to continue my research and teaching with new hope. This award gives me a scope to prove what women in science and conservation can achieve while working hard with sincere commitment," Gawsia said.
"I believe this award will inspire my daughter, my students and everyone here in Bangladesh to showcase that with different limitations, scientific research can be done and achieved recognition worldwide."
Dr Gawsia received her bachelor's and master's degrees in zoology from DU in 2003 and 2005. She was awarded the prestigious Commonwealth Academic Staff Scholarship to study for her PhD in zoology at the University of Cambridge, which she completed in 2012.
Since 2013, the researcher has worked at DU, teaching animal diversity, wetland ecology and other topics in zoology. She has received many awards and grants, including the Wildlife Conservation Society Fellowship.
Dr Gawsia is a board member of the conservation organisation WildTeam and a member of the Zoological Society of Bangladesh and has been appointed regional co-chair of the South Asian Invertebrate Specialist Group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
The scientist was the country lead for the National Geographic "Sea to Source: Ganges" expedition in 2019-2020.
She aspires to get more women engaged in science education and conservation efforts in Bangladesh and to make scientific findings understandable to the public.
The other researchers who have won the award are Myriam Mujawamariya of the University of Rwanda in biological systems and organisms, Abeer Ahmed Qaed Ahmed of the Al-Saeed University in biological systems and organisms, Heyddy Calderon of the Instituto de Geología y Geofísica in engineering sciences, Ashani Ssavinda Ranathunga of the University of Moratuwa in engineering sciences, and Flor de Mayo Gonzalez Miranda of San Carlos University in engineering sciences.
"What our 2022 winners are doing is absolutely outstanding. Climate change is the most pressing challenge of our time, and these women are finding innovative and effective ways to address it in their local contexts. We hope this award is the first of many for them," Jennifer Thomson, president of the Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World (OWSD), said.
First awarded in 2013, the award is given in partnership by the OWSD and the Elsevier Foundation.
The OWSD chairs a panel of distinguished scientists to select the winners, and the foundation awards a cash prize for each winner of $5,000, as well as an all-expenses-paid trip to attend a prominent scientific gathering to provide them with vital networking opportunities.
This year's award ceremony will take place on March 24, both virtually and in-person as part of the International Conference on Gender Action and Climate Change in Turkey at the Istanbul Aydin University.
Ylann Schemm, director of the Elsevier Foundation said: "We have reshaped our award this year to respond to the key challenges of our time, such as climate change, and supporting the progress being made around the UN SDGs."
"We know that a quarter of all women are engaged in agriculture, which makes them more vulnerable to both climate change and resource scarcity. We want to reflect the critical role that women can play in successfully addressing climate shifts."