Joint message on from Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women and Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO for the International Day for Women and Girls in Science 11 February
Recently, young women and girls around the world have been vocal in calling for action to combat climate change everywhere. When 16-year-old Swede Greta Thunberg charged World Economic Forum attendees in Switzerland to ‘act as if our house is on fire’, she was voicing sentiments similar to many of her age.
Women’s and girls’ voices and expertise in science, technology and innovation are vital to bring solutions to the disruptive change in our rapidly evolving world. We urgently need to close the gender gap in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields and actively promote gender equality in science, technology and innovation careers.
STEM skills form the basis of the fastest-growing job categories. Recent studies are showing that shifts in the global job market will result in 58 million net new jobs, particularly in data analysts and scientists; artificial intelligence and machine learning specialists; software and applications developers and analysts; and data visualization specialists.
Unfortunately, there is evidence of current problems for women in important jobs like engineering, with poor retention, advancement, and reintegration after maternity leave. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2018 shows, for example, that only 22 per cent of artificial intelligence professionals globally are female: a yawning gender gap that reflects significant issues like job segregation, and unfavourable working conditions.
In addition to addressing these barriers, improving digital connectivity and the accessibility of affordable technology can also ensure greater equality in STEM fields, enabling women and girls to benefit fully as scientists, students and citizens.
UN Women and UNESCO are working with partners around the world to close the gender gap in STEM fields and digital technologies.
One way that UN Women engages is through the Women’s Empowerment Principles. These principles offer companies—including those in digital sectors, information and communication technology, science technology and innovation and STEAM (STEM, plus art & design)—concrete guidance on empowering women in the workplace, marketplace and community. UN Women calls upon all companies who want to make the commitment to gender equality and women’s economic empowerment to sign and implement these principles.
Tackling inequalities early within the education system is vital, which is why UNESCO works to stimulate girls’ interest in STEM subjects, combat stereotypes in school curriculum and increase access to female mentors. In addition, we encourage women scientists through initiatives such as the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Programme and the Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World, which provide fellowships, networking and mentoring opportunities for women researchers around the world. Finally, the STEM and Gender Advancement project supports the inclusion of gender equality in national science, technology and innovation policies, strategies, plans and legislation by focusing on the collection of sex-disaggregated data.
Through all these initiatives, we are determined to encourage a new generation of women and girl scientists, to tackle the major challenges of our time. Heeding the call of Greta Thunberg, young women scientists are already making a difference in the fight against climate change, including South-African teenager Kiara Nirghin whose inventions minimize the impact of droughts.
By harnessing the creativity and innovation of all women and girls in science, and properly investing in inclusive STEM education, research and development and science, technology and innovation ecosystems, we have an unprecedented opportunity to leverage the potential of the Fourth Industrial Revolution to benefit society.