International Day of Women and Girls in Science

International Day of Women and Girls in Science

Gender equality – one of the United Nations (UN) 17 sustainable development goals – encompasses a wide range of issues that are prevalent in varying degrees across the globe. This includes the political and economic representation of women, and equal access to education and healthcare, but one common theme worldwide is the disparity between male and female employment in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) industries. The figures depend on the industry and by nation but, according to Women into Science and Engineering’s (WISE) UK statistics, women make up 25% of employees overall in STEM fields, with only 13% holding management roles.

Each year, 11th February marks the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, a UN initiative that aims to achieve full and equal access to, and participation in, science for women and girls, and further achieve gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. Not only does today promote the importance of gender parity in STEM fields, but it’s also to “recognise the achievements [of women] in the face of inequality” – Princess Dr Nisreen El-Hashemite, Executive Director of the Royal Academy of Science International Trust (RASIT).


Where did it begin?     

The International Day of Women and Girls in Science was born from the first High-Level World Women's Health and Development Forum in 2015, organised by RASIT and the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA). Now with the sponsorship of more than 68 countries and the approval of all Member States to the resolution A/RES/70/212, a unified global stance for achieving gender equality in educational and scientific opportunity is within reach.

By holding the Forum each year, the International Day of Women and Girls in Science provides a space for science experts, policy-makers and diplomats to gather and discuss their shared vision of equality, their expertise, and best practices to achieve this vision.                                                                                                                                                           

The value of gender equality in science                                                                                                                                      

So what contributes to the male dominance of the sciences? Much of this stems from the different opportunities boys and girls are exposed to at home and throughout school, plus subtle ongoing dialogue in society that places the emphasis on men to carry out such roles. Only last month I was disheartened to hear my female exercise class instructor sigh and declare that “we need a man to fix this” when the sound system wasn’t working. Unfortunately this message is all too often reinforced, in education and the workplace, as well as in day-to-day life. It’s unsurprising that teenage boys and girls use computers and the internet at similar rates, yet girls are five times less likely to consider a technology-related career and, at university level, women make up less than a quarter of computer and information science undergraduates.

So why is it important to close the gap? With women comprising roughly 50% of the world’s population, they have the potential to make a significant impact on the economy, playing a key role in reducing poverty for themselves, their families and their countries in many regions. Changing perceptions of the societal role of women from an early age could help provide them with the opportunity and the confidence to pursue STEM careers.


Tomorrow’s scientists

By encouraging equality in science, a number of fields open up a future with more innovators and big thinkers than any previous generation.

“Our future will be marked by scientific and technological progress, just like our past. That future progress will be the greatest when it draws on the full talent, creativity and ideas of women and girls in science.” – Joint message from Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO and Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women for the International Day for Women and Girls in Science.


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About the Author: Lizzie Randall