February 11 

They shall teach the little girls of the villages while they are there. They shall strive to train local girls to replace them at this task during their absence. They shall do all this for the love of God and without any remuneration (SWLM:729 [A.54]).

These words of St. Louise de Marillac resonate four centuries later, in a new time and place, where technology is advancing faster than comprehendible. Education, a pillar of the Vincentian Family, is a mission of the AIC, in particular, to promote education of women and girls.

Within the UN, in March 2011, the Commission on the Status of Women adopted a report at its fifty-fifth session, with agreed conclusions on access and participation of women and girls in education, training and science and technology, and for the promotion of women’s equal access to full employment and decent work. In December 2013, the General Assembly adopted a resolution on science, technology and innovation for development, in which it recognized that full and equal access to and participation in science, technology and innovation for women and girls of all ages is imperative for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. In 2015, the General Assembly designated February 11 to be International Day of Women and Girls in Science (A/RES/70/212) in order 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.

The United Nations encouages all Member States, all organizations and bodies of the United Nations system and other international and regional organizations, the private sector and academia, as well as civil society, to observe the International Day of Women and Girls in Science in an appropriate manner, through education and public awareness-raising activities, in order to promote the full and equal participation of women and girls in education, training, employment and decision-making processes in the sciences and recognize the achievements of women in science.

The following statement was issued by UN Women last week:

“Equal participation of women and girls in the fields of science is a critical right and a means by which women can achieve their aspirations in life. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is founded on the principle of leaving no one behind, including women and girls who continue to be systematically under-represented both as users and as leaders in the science, technology and innovation space. The current trajectory will not get us the world we want.

Change carries high rewards: first and foremost, women will have the capability to make equal life and career choices in these fields. This engagement carries benefits for everyone. Estimates are that GDP across 144 developing countries would be boosted by up to US$13-18 billion, if 600 million women and girls go online in the next three years.

The job market is changing rapidly and a new wave of innovations is expected to transform lives in areas such as robotics, transport, artificial intelligence, biotechnology and genomics. Jobs that do not exist today will be common within the next 20 years. That means that the future workforce will need to develop and align their skill sets to correspond to these job market needs.

Yet, in tertiary education globally, women are underrepresented in computing, engineering and physics, with levels below 30 per cent in most countries. Consequently, fewer than one third of jobs in the tech sector are currently held by women. Engineering roles comprise only about half of those jobs. As women work their way up the career ladder, this gender gap widens.

Freedom and equality are often contingent on intersectional factors like income, geography, gender, income, age and race. These factors can also affect access to technology.  In developing countries women are nearly 25 per cent less likely to be online than men and 200 million fewer women than men have access to mobile phones. In several of Africa’s poorer and more fragile countries, only one person in 10 is an internet user. To ensure women and girls have access, a host of issues must be resolved, including cost, network coverage, security and harassment, harmful social norms and stereotypes around science being a “masculine” field, and the use of technology by women and girls.

UNESCO estimated that 2.5 million new engineers and technicians would be needed in sub-Saharan Africa alone to achieve improved access to clean water and sanitation during the pre-SDG era.

Science and technology offer unique opportunities for women and girls to overcome a number of the barriers they typically face. For example: mobile money has empowered and transformed the lives of millions of women previously thought to be “unbankable”, by enabling them to directly access financial products and services. Women with Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM) skills can help improve vital infrastructure such as water and power supply, and in doing so ease the responsibilities that women and girls carry of providing unpaid care work for the household. Similarly, internet and mobile technology can help bridge barriers to education for the 32 million girls who are out of school at the primary level and the 29 million at the lower secondary level.

UN Women is working to tackle these issues on several fronts with the help of our strategic partners. For instance, we are developing a Virtual Skills School that will offer second chance education and ICT and STEAM skills to women and girls who have been left behind due to high levels of poverty, geographic isolation, early marriage or pregnancy, high education costs and conflict or humanitarian disasters. In Kenya and South Africa, we have partnered with the Mozilla Foundation to create 20 digital literacy clubs that encourage women and girls to pursue science and technology fields and teach them how to create content and become active participants on the web. We are also piloting enterprise platforms for women-owned enterprises in the agriculture, utilities and retail sectors involving up to 5,000 farmers in Rwanda.

Closing the gender digital divide is one of the most important ways we have to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals for all. Together, on this International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we can work together to create a world where women and girls design, shape and benefit from the technological transformations changing our world.”

UN Women Statement for the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, Date: February 11, 2017

The International Day for Women in Science serves as an annual reminder and hold us to account on how we are advancing women in science, technology and innovation more broadly and critically for achieving gender equality and ultimately, all other development goals.

Natalie Boone, AIC – UN NGO Representative




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