International Day for Women and Girls in Science: Dawnie’s Story


11 February marks the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. The day focuses on the vital role of gender equality in science, for the achievement of internationally agreed development goals, including the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The PEUMP programme has adopted a human rights-based approach with a strong focus on gender equality. As such, the USP PEUMP component reflects this via the capacity-building initiatives and support it offers such as the integration of gender and human rights aspects into project activities and the development of gender awareness programmes within the context of the fisheries, aquaculture and the environment as a whole.

This is a remarkable story of resilience from a Pacific woman scientist who broke gender barriers to become a science teacher, ecologist, and researcher around coastal rainforest in her island home in PNG.  

This is the impact story for one of our woman scientists and USP PEUMP funded PhD candidate, Dawnie, Daphne Katowai.

Name: Dawnie Daphne Katovai

Research topic: The impact of land-use changes on ecological connectivity in coastal forests (PhD Student)

  1. Tell us briefly about yourself and your academic background?

 Hi! I am Dawnie Katovai from Papua New Guinea. I am currently pursuing my PhD at the University of the South Pacific funded by the USP PEUMP project. My current study seeks to investigate the impact of land-use changes on ecological connectivity in coastal forests in Fiji and the Solomon Islands.

I completed my bachelor’s degree at the Pacific Adventist University in Papua New Guinea (PNG) and my Master of Science at James Cook University in Australia. I am a science teacher/ecologist by profession; and actively involved in coastal rainforest research – something I love doing.


  1. Why did you decide to study/work in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) field?

I pursued science when I learnt that my late mum was not given study opportunities because she was a female. I promised myself then, that I would take up a male dominated career and prove to myself that women could also succeed.

Growing up in rural areas of Papua New Guinea, I never had formal education until I was 10 years old. However, my parents made sure I had books to read. Most of the books they gave me were on science. So, I decided to keep to science in high school and eventually graduated from the Pacific Adventist University in PNG and worked as a secondary science teacher. But I wanted more. I wanted to be able to contribute to the knowledge I was teaching in class.

This passion continued to grow as I studied at James Cook University (JCU), Cairns Australia. In fact, having women lecturers who were and still are actively involved in world class research inspired me to get into research too. I felt this was one way to contribute to knowledge in the Pacific and honour my mum as well. A decade later and I still love what I do – enjoying my ‘classroom’ in the coastal forests and working alongside male colleagues.


  1. As a woman that has studied and worked in a traditionally male dominated field, what would you identify as one of your key learnings?

 Working and studying in a traditionally male dominated field is challenging. As an aspiring female colleague/researcher you have to make yourself visible. You have to seize opportunities to showcase your qualities and expertise. For me it’s not about overpowering my male colleagues and making a name for myself.  It’s about working together as equal partners in contributing to science rather than in silo.


  1. How will/did your research impact communities?

 My research seeks to:

  • Educate the local communities in taking up ownership of their coastal resources and promoting conservation especially of traditionally value plant species that are being threatened along the coasts. I have been training local field assistants with basic vegetation techniques so that they can develop community capabilities in assisting future researches or be able to monitor their resources.
  • This research also serves as a platform for gender equality in local communities and will feature women participating in research. This study plans to publish stories in support of women in saving coastal livelihood (with their consent) alongside men.
  • Utilise and establish network between local communities and already established organizations/associations within the locality.
  • Establish the development of frameworks for the conservation and restoration of traditionally value plant species in Fiji and Solomon Islands where necessary.


  1. Any advice for the younger aspiring women and girls in entering the field of science?

 Resilience among others, is an important attribute if you are to be successful. Being resilient means being able to continue with your plans/goals despite major disruptions to your plans. COVID19 tested my limits. But it forced me to stop, regroup my thoughts and refocus quickly to stay on track with my goals.  It can be challenging but keeping an open mind and exploring options will help you achieve your goals.


  1. Any other comments?

 Stigmas towards women still exist. Be brave, persevere through it. You are the only person who can influence your future.  Take in those criticism and turn them into beautiful achievements. You can do it if you’re determined just like other women in STEM have. We need more female mentors and you could be the next mentor for the young girls in your community and your country.

I should also add that study opportunities for women and girls in STEM may be scarce in this part of the world. But remember there are many pathways you can take to achieve your goals in STEM. What matters is, you getting there, not how long it takes to get there. I am pursuing a PhD in my forties, I took a longer pathway than others. But I am here now. You may have the opportunity to pursue a PhD in your twenties. What matters is that you’re doing what you love. Women and girls can definitely make a significant contribution to STEM.

USP Chat Service
Lets start: