“The G7 WINDS initiative will be the wind that we all need to fly”—Executive Director
Date: 13 December 2016
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, it is wonderful to be here again in Japan. This time we have the G7 Special Event on the ‘Shining Future of Women in STEM fields”. This is an excellent outcome of Japan’s G7 Presidency, for which I want to thank Japan. I also want to thank Germany, the previous G7 President, because this was an aspect that we originally pushed hard for last year.
It is vital that this very important group of nations is able to support an agenda within and beyond their countries that enhances the participation and empowerment of women and girls. It reflects specific action on essential capacity-building, and one could say that it is the engendering of the G7, so it is a big moment for us.
The elimination of gender disparities and stereotypes in education and careers is important. It is one of the systemic challenges that we face, which continues to put women and girls at a much lower level than we aspire to for them.
It is critical to address these barriers because they are responsible for the sustained feminization of poverty and for disempowering women and girls who can be trapped in relationships that are violent. And it also denies nations the shared prosperity from which girls and women can also benefit significantly. It is a strategic move that ensures that in the goals and targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development we truly can do something about ensuring that we do not leave anyone behind.
In these discussions we are building on last year’s G7 Forum for Dialogue with Women in Berlin, under the leadership of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, where we discussed barriers to global gender equality. We discussed STEM education for girls, digital education, and giving girls a second chance when they have dropped out of school, and issues of women’s economic empowerment. I am glad that the G7 has paid strong attention again this year to those areas, building further strong leadership.
During the event in Germany last year we had the opportunity to meet with female leaders on different topics. One topic discussed was the importance of role-modeling for girls, so that for critical careers in which girls and women are underrepresented, there are people that the young women can look up to. We need a strategic mechanism to make sure that we facilitate these linkages, and I hope this concrete action will be part of the discussions we are going to have today.
‘Women’s Initiative in Developing STEM Careers’ (WINDS) is important because of the shortage of women in these careers. In the statistics we track at UN Women, we see this gap as an opportunity. Because it is a problem that has a solution: there is a significant supply of women and girls who could be positioned in this industry. It is also an industry that is much needed to create the kind of world that is envisaged in the Sustainable Development Goals and to address the broader issues of the economy.
This year the UN Secretary-General commissioned a report for his High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment. In this report, one of underlying issues was the importance of girls’ education - as probably the closest thing we have to a silver bullet - and the intervention that is needed for women’s economic empowerment to be sustainable, especially high quality affordable public education.
In that report, the panel addressed the fact that the majority of women employed outside the home work in the informal sector. That sector is also where there is also a need for education, so that women are not trapped in that part of the economy that does not have any social protection, and which also keeps a lot of women in poverty.
Just to give some context, in India at least 120 million women work in the informal sector, making this a sector that is too big to fail. In Mexico, 60 per cent of women who work outside of the home work in the informal sector. Education is a critical missing ingredient that keeps those women in that sector. Changing that deficiency offers a possibility for those women to move on.
The High Level Panel of the Secretary-General also looked at digital inclusion and financial inclusion as another systemic barrier to women’s economic empowerment. Again, there the issue of STEM education is important. We also looked at women’s entrepreneurship, why women’s businesses fail, and the absence of sophisticated labour-saving mechanisms and interventions. This enquiry again brings us to the issue of STEM and related training.
These are some of the opportunities that we see, and we hope that the discussions here will help us to address these very critical and easily identifiable gaps.
Let us also just consider some of these figures that reveal the size of the gap: only 6 per cent of the top 100 Tech CEOs are women; only 9 per cent of apps in Europe are created by women; only 10-15 per cent of high level managers in the technology sector are women; only 20 per cent of the jobs held in the energy sector are held by females—mostly in non-technical positions; and an estimated 90 per cent of electronic goods are created by men.
It is also estimated that sub-Saharan Africa will need 2.5 million engineers and technicians, alone to achieve improved access to clean water and sanitation. When we consider the number of girls who drop out of school early just in sub-Saharan Africa, and the number of girls who are caught up in child and early marriages, we must also consider the fact that education is one thing that can stop these girls from getting involved in these practices. If it is good education that involves STEM, the benefits are even higher; for the girls themselves, for their families and for society.
So this is truly a good story. This is one of the problems for which there is a solution. It is a challenge where, with the G7’s collaboration, there is a possibility to reach many countries and many training institutions, and reach a lot of girls whose lives we could change significantly.
A worrying development that we noted is the widening of the digital divide between men and women, notwithstanding all the work that we are all doing. Last year, in the Broadband Commission of the United Nations, we received a report from the ITU which shows the digital gap to be widening.
This is happening at the time when the digital economy just in the G20 alone is worth US$ 4.2 trillion, and the value of the climate change and clean technology sectors in the developing world is expected to amount to US$6.4 trillion. There is a 200 million person shortage in ICT skills, underlining the opportunity to properly train women and girls.
I think there is a need for us to expose girls to these opportunities at a very early age; for them to know the career path is waiting for them on the other side; and also to invest in teachers who are critical role players, both to motivate them and to provide quality teaching, so that we can produce the appropriately educated girls that are needed.
We must also address the big role also of stereotypes in the media, which affect both what girls think they can do as well as what their career aspirations must be. It is critical to change these stereotypes.
When we evaluated the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action over a period of 20 years, the single factor that held countries back was stereotypes. Even in countries where the legislation was strong and where gender equality was strongly embraced, the issue of stereotypes remained almost in every field. It removed the strong benefits we could have derived from the good legislation passed.
This issue of stereotypes is also very strong in the area of STEM.
The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media did a very interesting report which showed that of all characters portrayed with a STEM job in films, 88.4 per cent were men and only 11.6 per cent were women. The research also raised other interesting issues, such as the fact that male characters spoke two times as much as women characters. Women have a lot to say, so that would be not a reflection of reality.
By increasing the number of women as role models in the news media and in films, and by adjusting the manner in which we portray teachers and staff who are in the forefront of providing professional services in STEM, we create a pipeline, as well as a mirror, that many young girls can look at.
It also means that we address the issue of unconscious bias and raise awareness amongst educators, who may not recognize the role that they are playing in denying or discouraging girls from engaging in these fields.
As we finish the session today I hope that we can have a really concrete plan of action that we can follow, that will keep us working together, so that when we meet again we are able to look back and to see how far we have come, how much ground we have covered and the kinds of initiatives in different countries that we were able to initiate.
I know there is a big appetite and interest in many countries outside G7 to be a part of this.
In India, for instance, where I was before coming here, this was one of the issues that we discussed with the private sector. I learned that Indian Girls Code, a free programme, led by robotics education company Robotix, is attracting an unbelievable number of girls who want to be part of the process. It encourages girls in India to be comfortable with the business side of technology, especially girls coming from underprivileged backgrounds.
The US also has a similar programme called Girls Who Code. This is something we can do for the world and engage many girls from every corner of the world, especially those who are in the most underprivileged situations. The costs of a programme like this compared to the benefits are truly negligible.
According to a 2012 study by the Elsevier Foundation, Brazil ranks first in STEM gender equality, largely due to progressive social policies. There is a connection between creating social policies that support mothers and that support girls, which ensures that girls are encouraged to stay longer at school, and that the pipeline created will extend right to the end of the education process.
The investment that the State makes is critical in this, as is the collaboration between that State and the private sector. Again, this is an area in which I hope we can have some discussion and look at the kind of interventions available.
UN Women would like to collaborate with many of you. We have our own Flagship initiatives that we would like to grow in this area.
We have a Virtual Skills School where we are encouraging second chances for girls, so they do not find themselves in a lifetime of misfortune as a result of early pregnancy, or any other misfortune along the way when they are still in their twenties. Coming back into school through second-chance education ensures that these girls can find their way again and be a part of the mainstream.
It is our hope that the G7 WINDS initiative will be the wind that we all need to fly, but not to fly alone, to fly with millions and millions of girls around the world who are hoping and begging us to give them the right tools for change.