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

Celebrate love, strengthen partnerships to end AIDS epidemic by 2030 says UN agency

Sweden’s forests have doubled in size over the last 100 years

Chile ups foreign bribery enforcement but flawed case resolutions are insufficient to ensure transparency and accountability

More people now plan to get a COVID-19 vaccine than in December

This Latin American country is keeping COVID-19 firmly under control. How?

Wednesday’s Daily Brief: Sudan, Libya, Yemen updates, solutions for e-waste, flood response in Iran, online security for children

Main results of EU-Japan summit: Tokyo, 17/07/2018

3 reasons why responsibly-deployed technology is key to the COVID recovery

LGBTQ+ inclusion on the other side of the screen

Can we prevent a surge in pandemic-related homelessness?

EU reconfirms support for Afghanistan at 2020 Geneva Conference

Timor-Leste Foreign Minister highlights value of UN in resolving conflicts

Fostering defence innovation through the European Defence Fund

China is a renewable energy champion. But it’s time for a new approach

Financial inclusion in India is soaring. Here’s what must happen next

Horn of Africa: UN chief welcomes Djibouti agreement between Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia

A clean energy future with hydrogen could be closer than we think

Draghi cuts the Gordian knot of the Banking Union

This Canadian start-up turns millions of chopsticks into sustainable furniture

COVID-19 is challenging the way we think of chemical industry trends. This is how

Across the world, women outlive men. This is why

These 3 countries are global offshore wind powerhouses

Brexit talks: 2nd round fails to bring the EU and the UK closer on key issues

The EU invites the US and Russia to partition Ukraine

What happens when the Eurogroup decides to help Greece

EU announces record €550 million contribution to save 16 million lives from AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria

European Banking Union: no one is perfect

European Defence Fund on track with €525 million for Eurodrone and other joint research and industrial projects

Africa’s future is innovation rather than industrialization

Violence will not deter Somali people in their pursuit of peace, says UN chief, in wake of lethal attacks

EU Budget 2019 to focus on young people

Armed groups kill Ebola health workers in eastern DR Congo

Economic policy priorities for a post-pandemic recovery

What brands get wrong about China – and how to put it right

China, forever new adventures

New rules to help consumers join forces to seek compensation

4 ways to build businesses that work for good, right now

‘Catastrophic’ healthcare costs put mothers and newborns at risk

Mobile 360 Series – Russia & CIS: Empowering the Digital Economy

These tech start-ups are changing what it means to farm

Insecurity and violence turn Nigeria into a ‘pressure cooker’ that must be addressed, says UN rights expert

UN relief official in Yemen condemns ‘horrific’ attack on passenger buses

How Cameron unwillingly helped Eurozone reunite; the long-term repercussions of two European Council decisions

European Commission authorises third safe and effective vaccine against COVID-19

European Youth Forum on Summit on Jobs and Growth

Escalation in Syria fighting cause for ‘great concern’ says UN chief, dozens more civilians dead or injured

Taxes on polluting fuels are too low to encourage a shift to low-carbon alternatives

AI-assisted recruitment is biased. Here’s how to make it more fair

Measles claims more than twice as many lives than Ebola in DR Congo

Technology can hinder good mental health at work. Here’s how it can help

Facebook: MEPs demand a full audit by EU bodies to assess data protection

More women than ever are working in Hollywood, but men still dominate key roles

Japanese law professor elected new judge at the International Court of Justice

G7: A serious setback hardly avoided in iconic Biarritz

German elections: Is Merkel losing ground or Shultz is winning?

EU-UK relations: MEPs approve rules to ensure Eurotunnel safety and cooperation

Facebook/Cambridge Analytica: MEPs pursue personal data breaches probe

Commission extends transparency and authorisation mechanism for exports of COVID-19 vaccines

Hostages to a rampant banking system

CHALLENGING THE ZEITGEIST OF DIGITAL – Change making projects innovate mobile support for refugees, inclusive environments, early breast cancer detection and more

More Stings?

Advertising

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