Over time, the science educational journey of women and girls has continued to evolve. From the time when women couldn’t go to school, to the time when science was considered a male field of study to today where it is perfectly normal to see a female professor of molecular biology.
Currently, there are lots of women experts and researchers in various fields like space technology, AI, blockchain, neuroscience, psychiatry, radiology, quantum physics, embryology, math, chemistry and so on. More girls and women are learning science as undergraduates and more than before, women are taking advanced degrees and other forms of higher education to gain more science skills and be able to conduct research and serve humanity better.
We have come a really long way, no doubt, yet it’s still not enough. Despite the massive improvements, women and girls are still underrepresented in the labs and science classes.
The UN revealed that there’s a wide gap in the way women are embracing science and informative tech compared to men. It also shared that although AI is in demand right now, only 1 in 5 professionals in the industry is a woman. The UN further added that, sadly, women researchers were paid less, had shorter careers and their work barely made it to high-profile journals. So, the world out there has not fully embraced girls and women in science.
For these reasons, February 11th every year is marked as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. The day is set aside to encourage more girls and women to delve into the world of science and make a difference. It is the UN’s belief that excluding girls and women from science robs the world of a fresh pair of eyes, perspectives and talent, thus, limiting the kind of breakthroughs science can achieve. We need those mind-blowing discoveries from all kinds of people (regardless of their gender or previous background) to be able to tackle all the current global problems we’re facing, especially the ones that can affect our future like climate change.
Hence, the need for the International Day of Women and Girls in Science – it’s a kind reminder that girls and women should be encouraged to participate in science as the world needs them.
This year’s theme is IDEAS (Innovate, Demonstrate, Elevate, Advance, Sustain).
To get the ball rolling on how things will eventually pan out (when more women and girls are scientists), the UN is focusing on how women and girls in science can make an impact on any of several pressing Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs): SDGs 6 – Clean water and sanitation, 7 – affordable and clean energy, 9 – industry, innovation, and infrastructure, 11 – sustainable cities and communities and 17 – means of implementation. By connecting these SDGs to women and girls, the UN hopes to align science, policy and community to change the future.
While we may not pilot grand plans or influence policies yet like the UN, we can play our part and make science more attractive to girls and women around us, in our communities, in our schools, on the streets everywhere. It’s possible to get more girls involved in science.
Here’s how we can do it:
First, let’s kill the stereotype that makes girls feel like they don’t belong in science class. It isn’t true and hasn’t helped anyone. Also, be the solution, don’t ridicule girls or women pursuing science careers. Rather, support them and connect them with more opportunities – if you can.
Another way you can support women in science is by promoting their research. If you like their work, or if it provides insights, acknowledge them, credit them, and cite them. More girls and women need to know that their work matters and that they are making a difference in the world.
You can also think up more creative ways to make science attractive – like using storytelling to teach science. Like we often hear, representation matters. So, sharing stories about famous women scientists like Marie Curie (the first woman to win a Nobel prize, and only woman to win it twice, and the only person to win it in two scientific fields – physics and chemistry), Ada Lovelace (first programmer and inventor of scientific computing), Angie Turner King (one of the earliest African American women to be awarded degrees in chemistry and math.), Marie Maynard Daly (the first African-American woman to obtain a Ph.D. in Chemistry), Alice Ball (who developed the Ball method that was effective in leprosy) can encourage young girls and other women.
Another approach will be for creatives – musicians, scriptwriters, digital artists and so on to deliberately choose to portray women in this light. This is one reason why I love Marvel’s Black Panther (I and II). The princess was portrayed as a scientist who uses advanced technology to create all types of solutions – from weapon construction to regenerating ancient plants. Seeing these in movies, hearing them in songs and so on, have a way of affecting young minds and showing them that it’s normal for women to be scientists and they’d be inspired to pursue their passion.
I would like to conclude by saying – there’s room in the labs for everyone and it’s my strong belief that when we come together, there’s no limit to what we can achieve. And as we deliberately reduce the gender gap in the science world, we’ll create a healthier, exciting future we will all be proud of.