Calls for stepped-up efforts to close gender gaps in science

Staff Writer
By Staff Writer, ITWeb
Johannesburg, 11 Feb 2021

The leaders of UN Women and Unesco have jointly emphasised the importance of making science more open, diverse and efficient.

This, as the world commemorates the sixth official International Day of Women and Girls in Science today.

Celebrated on 11 February, the day is implemented by Unesco and UN Women, in collaboration with institutions and civil society partners that aim to promote women and girls in science.

The day is used to promote full and equal access to and participation in science for women and girls, and encourage women and girls to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

In a joint statement, UN Women executive director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, and Unesco director-general Audrey Azoulay say the world needs science, and science needs women and girls.

They note the COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated, once again, the critical role of women and girls in science. “Women researchers have led many crucial breakthroughs in the fight against the pandemic – from understanding the virus and controlling its spread, to developing diagnostic tests and vaccines.

“At the same time, there is growing evidence that the pandemic has hit women – and women scientists – harder than men; for example, as a result of the unbalanced distribution of unpaid care and domestic tasks. All too often, women take charge of home schooling, elderly care, and other work created by stay-at-home orders, at the expense of their own employment.

“Gender stereotypes and gender-based inequalities continue to prevent many girls and women from taking up and remaining in careers in science across the world.”

According to Unesco’s forthcoming Science Report, only 33% of researchers are women, despite the fact that they represent 45% and 55% of students at the Bachelor’s and Master’s levels of study, respectively, and 44% of those enrolled in PhD programmes.

While 70% of health and social care workers are women, they are paid 11% less than their male counterparts, shows Unesco data.

In addition, they say: “We need to step up our efforts to close these gender gaps in science, and address the norms and stereotypes that create and preserve expectations of limited career paths for girls. The task is all the more urgent given women’s underrepresentation in areas critical to the future of work, such as renewable energy and digital fields, with only 3% of female students in higher education choosing information and communication technologies.

“To be truly transformative, gender equality policies and programmes need to eliminate gender stereotypes through education, change social norms, promote positive role models of women scientists and build awareness at the highest levels of decision-making.

“We need to ensure women and girls are not only participating in STEM fields, but are empowered to lead and innovate, and that they are supported by workplace policies and organisational cultures that ensure their safety, consider their needs as parents, and incentivise them to advance and thrive in these careers,” Mlambo-Ngcuka and Azoulay conclude.