More women and girls needed in the sciences to solve world’s biggest challenges

UN Women Viet Nam/Pham Quoc Hung Girls studying science in Viet Nam. Globally, while more girls are attending school than before, girls are significantly under-represented in STEM subjects in many settings and they appear to lose interest in STEM subjects as they reach adolescence.

This article is brought to you in association with the United Nations.


Many of the world’s biggest problems may be going unsolved because too many women and girls are being discouraged from the sciences.

The role of science education in a changing world cannot be undervalued: it is estimated that fully 90 per cent of future jobs will require some form of ICT (information and communication technology) skills, and the fastest growing job categories are related to STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), with recent studies indicating 58 million net new jobs, in areas such as data analysis, software development and data visualization.

But women and girls continue to be extremely under-represented in the sciences. Data from UNESCO (the UN’s agency for education, science and culture) shows that less than a third of all female students choose STEM-related subjects in higher education, whilst just three per cent of women choose ICT subjects.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is becoming an increasingly important field, where the diversity of those working on AI solutions has been identified as a crucial element in ensuring that they are free from bias. However, the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report shows that only 22 per cent of artificial intelligence professionals globally are female.

There are several reasons for the gender gap in the sciences, from the prioritization of boys’ education, to gender biases and stereotypes, and the global digital divide, which disproportionately affects women and girls.

The extent to which the world is missing out on potential female scientific talent becomes all the more apparent if we look at some of the extraordinary contribution that women have made to advancing science, contributions that were often overlooked during their working lives, such as Marie Curie, computer pioneer Ada Lovelace, NASA scientist Katherine Johnson, and countless others more whose work continues to be overlooked.

This tradition of female scientific excellence continues today. For example, in South Africa, Kiara Nirghin has developed a unique super-absorbent polymer that holds hundreds of times its weight in water when stored in soil. Her discovery came about in response to server droughts in the country, the worst in over 45 years. The cheap, biodegradable polymer is made entirely from waste, and increases the chance for plants to sustain growth by 84% during a drought and can increase food security by 73% in disaster-struck areas. In recognition of her work, Kiara has been awarded the Google Science Fair Grand Prize, and was one of UN Environment’s regional Young Champions of the Earth finalists in 2018: she is still only 18 years old.

Khayrath Mohamed Kombo is even younger. At just 15, Khayrath, from Dar-es-Salaam joined more than 80 other girls, from 34 African countries, at the first Coding Camp in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in August 2018. This was the launch of the African Girls Can Code Initiative, a joint programme of the African Union Commission and the International Telecommunication Union. “When I heard about this I was excited, because my dream is to learn more things and expand my knowledge,” says Khayrath, who is the only girl in her computer science club at school. Over the four years of the programme, around 2000 girls will be trained as programmers, creators and designers, placing them on-track to take up education and careers in ICT and coding.

Whilst there are still many obstacles to women achieving their full potential in the sciences, Lisa Harvey Smith thinks that, for many women, the barriers are sociological and psychological, and are disappearing. Ms. Harvey Smith, who trained as an astronomer, is a Professor of Practice in Science Communication, and the Australian Government’s Ambassador for women in STEM.

In an exclusive interview with the UN, which you can listen to here, Professor Harvey Smith said that, with the right mentoring, networks and support, women can “punch through the glass ceiling” and do “incredible work.” Referring to artificial intelligence tools, she added that we need to “design these with both men and women in mind, and with all areas of society and people from around the world to make sure that AI is representing the whole of the human race.”

 

The 2019 International Day of Women in Science, on February 11, is shining a spotlight on this issue. UN Secretary-General António Guterres released a video to mark the day, in which he described the participation of women and girls in science as “vital” to achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, because “the world cannot afford to miss out on the contributions of half our population.”

To help improve this situation, UN Women is working with the UN Global Compact, the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative, to call on the private sector to make a commitment to gender equality by signing up to the Women’s Empowerment Principles, arguing that gender diversity helps business to perform better.

The World needs Science. Science needs women

In a joint UN Women/UNESCO statement, the two UN agencies outlined ways that they are tackling the under-representation of women in science, through initiatives such as the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Programme, the Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World, and the STEM and Gender Advancement project.

Whilst there is still much to be done, major progress has been made in the past decade towards increasing access to education at all levels and increasing enrolment rates in schools, particularly for women and girls. When it comes to the part they have to play in the sciences, Professor Harvey Jones has a clear message: “Science and technology and mathematics are for you because you need to change the world. Women need to take their place at the top table of science, we need to use it for good to change the world for the better, and you can do it.”

the sting Milestones

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

The European Sting live from the World Economic Forum 2015 in Davos

US, Russia oblige each other in Syria and Ukraine selling off allies

MEPs choose Wiewiórowski to be the EU’s data protection watchdog

Telemedicine during the pandemic: its benefits and limitations

Unemployment and immigrants haunt the EU; who can offer relief?

Energy Union: EU’s effort towards a cleaner climate with integrated energy market

These are the best ways to tackle air pollution and climate change together

A Sting Exclusive: Disaster risk resilience, key to protecting vulnerable communities

UN chief ‘alarmed’ by violations of UN-backed ceasefire in Libya

With human rights under attack, UN chief unveils blueprint for positive change

How can we build a workforce for our digital future?

Military escalation will have ‘serious consequences’ for Yemeni civilians, warns UN Special Envoy

Coronavirus: the Commission approves third contract to ensure access to a potential vaccine

Trade, entrepreneurship and the future of ASEAN’s economy

Fake online reviews cost $152 billion a year. Here’s how e-commerce sites can stop them

Four years on and half a billion dollars later – Tax Inspectors Without Borders

Turkey: MEPs strongly condemn repression of opposition

This is why retail is such a sore point in India-US trade relations

No way out for Eurozone’s stagnating economy

Q and A: This is how stakeholder capitalism can help heal the planet

European Citizens’ Initiative: Commission decides to register ‘Ban Fossil Fuel Advertising and Sponsorships’ initiative

Camino de Santiago – a global community on our doorstep

A Sting Exclusive: “Without climate, forget about peace!”, Swedish MEP Bodil Valero cautions from Brussels

Recovery effort will fizzle out quickly if there is no long-term perspective

Commission reports on the risks of investor citizenship and residence schemes in the EU and outlines steps to address them

‘Laser-sharp focus’ needed to achieve Global Goals by 2030, UN political forum told

State aid: Commission adopts Temporary Framework to enable Member States to further support the economy in the COVID-19 outbreak

Solidarity Fund: €823 million in EU aid for eight member states

FROM THE FIELD: Persons with disabilities bike towards sustainability

This is the most sustainable way to use fashion – and it’s not renting clothes

Mergers: Commission approves Worldline’s acquisition of Ingenico, subject to conditions

Building a Climate-Resilient Future – A new EU Strategy on Adaptation to Climate Change

Trade barriers: EU removes record number in response to surge in protectionism

Theresa May expresses her optimism about Britain’s economic success while UK business outlook seems ominous

‘An unprecedented fiscal response’ – political and business leaders on managing the coronavirus crisis

State aid: the Commission authorises the regulatory mechanism for the storage of natural gas in France

Europe’s top court hears Intel and sends € 1.06 bn antitrust fine to review

South Korea wants to build three hydrogen-powered cities by 2022

Why law enforcement and businesses need to join forces to fight global cybercrime

Britain’s poet laureate has created a prize to highlight poetry about the climate crisis

Bureaucracy in the member states again the obstacle for long due strong European Hedge Funds

Amid global ‘learning crisis’, Parliaments can ensure adequate resources for education, says UN Assembly President

Legal Manager – 2050

Third Facebook-Cambridge Analytica hearing: data breach prevention and cures

If a virus could sing … Could this musical version of COVID-19 help us defeat the disease?

Rebuilding after COVID: The challenge is digital

The EU sides with China against the US; but has Germany capitulated to America?

Terror attacks strike people ‘from all walks of life, the UN included’

Macro-Financial Assistance: Europe’s way to control Ukraine?

Zero carbon buildings are possible following these four steps

ECB describes in detail how it exploits the poor

‘Right to disconnect’ should be an EU-wide fundamental right, MEPs say

European Border and Coast Guard: Council adopts revised regulation

Commission welcomes confirmation of provisional agreement to strengthen collective redress in the EU

‘Every ventilator becomes like gold’ – a doctor’s stark warning from Italy’s Coronavirus outbreak

ECB’s €1.14 trillion again unifies Eurozone; Germany approves sovereign debt risks to be pooled

This is how Britain saved some of its most precious wildlife from the threat of extinction

Vaccine strategy: Budget MEPs quiz EU health chief Sandra Gallina

Here are three ways Africa’s youth are defeating corruption

European platform to combat homelessness is launched

More Stings?

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: