In Focus: International Day of Women and Girls in Science

A women at work at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) Agrobiodiversity Research Area.  Photo: CIAT/Neil Palmer
Photo: CIAT/Neil Palmer

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The United Nations, partners worldwide, women and girls will mark 11 February as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. It’s an opportunity to take a stand for women and girls in science and to break the stereotypes that hold them back.

Joint message from Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO and Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women

In their joint message for the International Day for Women and Girls in Science on 11 February, Audrey Azoulay,
 Director-General of UNESCO
 and Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women
 call on all to tackle gender inequality in the sciences by dismantling the barriers to girls and women, at home, in the classroom and in the workplace. Read the full message►

Bridging the gender gap in science is vital for achieving sustainable development and fulfilling the promise of the 2030 Agenda to “leave no one behind”. Although science-related fields are critical to national economies, most countries have not achieved gender equality in Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

Today, less than 30 per cent of researchers worldwide are women. According to UNESCO data (2014 - 2016), only around 30 per cent of all female students select STEM-related fields in higher education. Globally, female students’ enrolment is particularly low in ICT (3 per cent), natural science, mathematics and statistics (5 per cent) and in engineering, manufacturing and construction (8 per cent).

Long-standing biases and gender stereotypes are steering girls and women away from science related fields. These biases set in early—for instance, a recent study in the journal Science showed that by age 6, girls are already less likely than boys to describe their own gender as ‘brilliant’, and less likely to join an activity labelled for ‘very, very smart’ kids.

Another study that surveyed 9,500 girls and young women aged 11 to 18 in nine European countries revealed some shocking facts: in Finland, 62 per cent of teenage girls said that science was an important field, and yet only 37 per cent said they would consider a career in that field.

As in the real world, the world on screen reflects similar biases—the 2015 Gender Bias Without Borders study by the Geena Davis Institute showed that of the onscreen characters with an identifiable STEM job, only 12 per cent were women.

The future of jobs is in the field of science and technology, with 90 per cent of future jobs requiring ICT skills, and some 2 million new jobs expected in the computer, mathematical, architecture and engineering fields.

Fulfilling the vision of the Sustainable Development Goals requires innovative solutions powered by science and technology for a range of issues, from climate change, health and infrastructure to economic development.

For a future that benefits women equally as men, now is the time to smash the gender bias and enable girls and women to access and excel in science.

Video: Why support women and girls in science and technology?

Despite progress in ensuring opportunities for women in STEM fields, women and girls continue to be systematically underrepresented as users and leaders in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. In order to achieve the sustainable development goals, we need to ensure full and equal access to and participation in science for women and girls.

Top stories

Lamija Gutić sits at her computer . Photo: Imrana Kapetanovic

From where I stand: “Changing the present, we are also changing the future”
Lamija Gutić, from Bosnia and Herzegovina, dreams of a career in ICT, developing solutions that will improve the lives of people around the world. Gutić, now 16 years old, entered the world of coding in 2016, through IT Girls, a UN Women-supported joint UN initiative.

Across the world, women’s leadership in conservation efforts is often invisible. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown

In photos: Women of Seychelles lead efforts towards healthy oceans
As the health of the world’s oceans is declining, women are leading efforts towards marine conservation and sustainable use of the oceans. Recently, UN Women visited the island nation of Seychelles to explore the efforts and impact of women in ocean conservation.

Shurouq Al Hamaideh. Photo: UN Women/Christopher Herwig

From where I stand: “Their expressions when they created their first website were priceless”
As the world of work changes, education and training in ICT is critical in preparing women to seize the opportunities in the growing digital economy. In Tafila, Jordan, Shurouq Al Hamaideh is teachin teenagers, computer programming.

26 women from 16 villages in Liberia, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda were selected to participate in six months of training on building, installing and maintaining solar lamps and panels. Photo: Thomas Dworzak/Magnum Photos for UN Women

Photo essay: Rural women light up villages in Liberia
Rural Liberian women, trained as solar engineers by Barefoot College in India, are pioneering efforts to provide affordable and clean energy by installing and managing solar lamps in their communities.

Rayhan Alem, 22-year-old native of Badakhsan Province in Afghanistan’s far northeast. Photo: UN Women/Hamayoon Sediqi

Starting a career saving lives during childbirth
Rayhan Alem has wanted to be a midwife since she was a teenager and a neighbour died giving birth. To prepare for her career in medicine when completed an internship at Ali Seena Hospital in Kabul, with the support of UN Women.

finding her. Can you find the woman at work?

Finding women at work shouldn't be this hard
Can you find the lone woman at work in this lab? Egypt’s Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics states that in Egypt, women’s participation in the labour force has been low and stagnant around 23 percent. Women are especially under-represented in fields such as science, politics and technology.

Join the conversation

Follow the hashtag #WomenInScience to make sure you don't miss out on the International Day of Women and Girls in Science! Spread the word on the need to include more women and girls in STEM fields using our social media asset, available in English, French and Spanish.

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