Monday, 26 June 2017

She May Be The Most Unstoppable Scientist In The World


Two years ago, Eqbal Dauqan was going to work in the morning as usual. She's a biochemistry professor. And was driving on the freeway, when suddenly: "I felt something hit my car, but I didn't know what it was because I was driving very fast," she says.

Dauqan reached the parking lot. Got out of the car and looked at the door. What she saw left her speechless.

"A bullet hit the car, just on the door," she says.

The door had stopped the bullet. And Dauqan was OK. She has no idea where the bullet came from. But it turned out to be an ominous sign of what was to come.

Gender Canyon

Dauqan is a woman scientist in what's possibly the hardest place on Earth to be just a woman: Yemen.

The World Economic Forum ranks Yemen as the worst country for women's rights. In Yemen, many women can't leave the house without permission from a male relative.

"If she goes out with her husband or brother, that's OK. But not by herself. " Dauqan says. "Not everyone follows this. But this is our culture."

A culture where two-thirds of women can't read. About half are married by age 18  and sometimes as young as age 8.

And then there's the black veil. Many women in Yemen wear a niqab — a black veil that completely covers their faces, from except for a tiny slit across the eyes.

Daquan wears a niqab when she's in Yemen. She even wore one during her TEDx talk there back in 2014. But she doesn't wear one in other countries.

"I cover my face [in Yemen] because I respect the culture," Dauqan says. "I respect the culture."

She may respect it  but not blindly. For the past decade, Dauqan has burst through glass ceiling after glass ceiling with fearlessness and grace.

Even as a young girl, she was rebel. "I was a little naughty," she says with a snicker.

She liked breaking rules. And proving people wrong. So when her parents told her she might not have the smarts to go into science and engineering — like her dad — Eqbal thought: Watch me.

"I told my father, 'I've heard a lot about scientists in chemistry. What is the difference between me and them? So I want to try," she says.

And she did more than try. She crushed it. 

Eqbal won over her father and got his financial support. She was the first among her friends to finish college. Then she got a scholarship to do her Ph.D. in biochemistry at the Universiti Kebansaan Malaysia, where she studied the nutritional properties of palm oil.

That lead to her writing a popular book about the fruits mentioned in the Holy Quran and their health benefits. For example, Indian Jujube — also known as red dates — are the most cultivated plant in the world and have 20 times more vitamin C than citrus fruit, Eqbal writes in her book.

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