L’Oreal and UNESCO announce five winners of their Women in Science International Awards; companies also award medal of honor to three displaced female scientists who had to escape their countries to survive

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June 23, 2023 (press release) –

On the 25th ceremony of the L’Oréal-UNESCO International Award, For Women in Science – which honors five women scientists for their outstanding work, the Fondation L’Oréal and UNESCO have also awarded a medal of honor and a financial reward to three researchers who have had to leave their countries and whose courage, resilience and commitment to science are exemplary.



Engaged alongside women to empower them to fulfill their full potential and have a positive impact on society, the Fondation L’Oréal and UNESCO have also chosen in this anniversary year to distinguish women scientists who have been obliged to escape their countries to survive.

In particular, they are recognizing three remarkable researchers for their courage and determination in pursuing their scientific career despite highly challenging professional and personal situations: Dr Mursal Dawodi (Afghanistan), Dr Ann Al Sawoor (Iraq) and Dr Marycelin Baba (Nigeria).

All three researchers have had to interrupt their scientific career in their home country and have pursued their research at least partially in higher learning, research or cultural institutions abroad.

As beneficiaries of the Programme d'Accueil d'Urgence des Scientifiques en Exil (PAUSE) or the Institute of International Education’s Scholar Rescue Fund, they have been chosen by Audrey Azoulay, Director General of UNESCO, and Jean-Paul Agon, President of the Fondation L’Oréal. The selection has been made based on evaluations and recommendations made by the two not-for-profit organizations – for their scientific work as well as the proven resilience they have displayed in overcoming the challenges confronting them.

Their medal of honor was awarded to them by Alexandra Palt, Chief Executive Director of the Fondation L’Oréal, Professor Edith Heard, Professor at the Collège de France, Chair of Epigenetics and Cell Memory, General Director of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory, 2020 laureate of the L'Oréal-UNESCO International Award and Firmin Edouard Matoko, Assistant Director-General for Priority Africa and External Relations of UNESCO.

For Alexandra Palt, Chief Executive Director of the Fondation L’Oréal: Nigerian, Afghan, Iraqi, each of them had to flee her country to survive, study and fulfill their vocation: to serve science. Paying tribute to these women scientists and saluting their resilience is crucial. Because one of the Foundation's missions is to fight against all the obstacles that stand in the way of women scientists, the L'Oréal Foundation wanted - for the first time - to support female scientific talent in exile and help them pursue their research.


Dr Mursal Dawodi, Afghanistan

Discipline : Artificial intelligence

Moved to Germany when the political regime changed in Afghanistan

Dr Mursal Dawodi was a research assistant at the Polytechnic University in Kabul, and is the author of multiple scientific publications. Her work focuses on using artificial intelligence in the automatic translation of [Deri and Pashto]. She would like to pursue data analysis for businesses.


Dr Ann Al Sawoor, Iraq, gained French nationality in 2022 

Discipline: Mathematics

Moved to France after having been victim of dispossession and physical violence due to her gender and religion.

Dr Ann Al Sawoor specialises in numerical probability analysis and asymptotic analysis, i.e. numerical techniques of linear algebra for big data, at the University of Mosul in Iraq. She is now Senior Lecturer at ICES, the Vendée Catholic Institute, and the University of West Brittany.



Dr Marycelin Baba, Nigeria

Discipline: Molecular biology

Displaced in South Africa and Kenya due to terrorism. She has now returned to Nigeria.

Dr Marycelin Baba, Nigerian medical virologist, has contributed to almost eliminating polio in Nigeria, and advanced medical research on arboviruses across Sub-Saharan Africa. She has also coordinated laboratory tests for Covid-19 in the state of Borneo.




During the ceremony, the extraordinary contribution of women in the domain of science was celebrated in the presence of representatives of the scientific world, universities, opinion leaders, politicians and members of public authorities, together with organizations promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment.

The event began with an opening speech from Jean-Paul Agon President of the Fondation L’Oréal, and Audrey Azoulay, Director General of UNESCO, reminding everyone that the pioneering fight conducted for the inclusion of women in science remains a fundamental cause.

The young scientist, Kiara Nirghin, highlighted in 2016 by Time magazine as one of the 30 most influential teenagers of the year, has also taken part to share the importance of encouraging vocations, particularly among the next generations.


About Fondation L’Oréal

The Fondation L’Oréal supports women to help them fulfill their full potential, shape their destiny and have a positive impact on society, in three areas of activity: scientific research, inclusive beauty and climate change.

Launched in 1998, the L'Oréal-Unesco For Women in Science program is dedicated to accelerating the careers of women scientists and addressing the challenges they face so they can contribute to solving the great challenges of our time. In 24 years, the program has supported more than 4,100 women researchers from over 110 countries. It promotes scientific excellence and seeks to inspire young women to pursue scientific careers. 

Convinced that beauty contributes to the process of rebuilding oneself, the Fondation L'Oréal helps vulnerable women to improve their self-esteem by giving them access to free beauty and wellbeing treatments. It also promotes access to employment for vulnerable women through high level training in the beauty industry. On average, around 16,000 people benefit from these beauty and wellness treatments annually, and more than 35,000 people have been able to attend dedicated training courses since the launch of the program.

Finally, women are victims of ongoing gender inequalities and discrimination, exacerbated by climate change. They are among the first to be affected by the consequences of global warming, yet they are underrepresented in decision-making structures. The Fondation L'Oréal’s Women and Climate program supports women with projects that address climate change and raise awareness of the need for solutions that consider the intersectionality of gender and climate issues. 



Since its establishment in 1945, UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, has worked to create the framework for dialogue among civilizations, cultures and people, based on respect for shared values. UNESCO's mission is to contribute to the construction of peace, the eradication of poverty, sustainable development and intercultural dialogue through its unique expertise in education, science, culture, communication and information. The organization has two global priorities: Africa and gender equality.

UNESCO is the only UN specialized agency with a specific mandate in the sciences, represented by the ‘S’ in its acronym. Through its science-related programs, UNESCO contributes to the implementation of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals helps developing countries to build their scientific and technological capacities. It also supports member states in achieving the Millennium Development Goals and developing effective public policies that integrate local and indigenous knowledge systems. 

Further, UNESCO promotes scientific research and expertise in developing countries. The organization leads several intergovernmental programs on the sustainable management of freshwater, ocean and terrestrial resources, the preservation of biodiversity, and the use of science to combat climate change and disaster risk reduction. With national and regional offices across all continents, UNESCO supports international scientific cooperation and works with many partners at a global, regional and national scale. Through its network of partners, the organization is able to draw on resources, knowledge and expertise to promote its ideals and values, while strengthening the impact and visibility of its action in all its fields of competence.


Victoria Daumesnil : victoria.daumesnil@jaycommunication.com +33 683 002 780
Laurence Delval : laurence.delval@jaycommunication.com + 33 682 529 847
Juliette Jacovidis : juliette.jacovidis@jaycommunication.com +33 648 498 315
Maeva Corbel : maevacorbelrp@gmail.com +33 769 799 719PRESSE CONTACT – UNESCO

Clare O’Hagan : c.o-hagan@unesco.org

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