Feb. 11, 2019 – On 11 February, the United Nations, partners worldwide, women and girls will mark the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. Why does it matter?

Recent studies suggest that 65 per cent of children entering primary school today will have jobs that do not yet exist. While more girls are attending school than before, girls are significantly under-represented in STEM subjects in many settings and they appear to lose interest in STEM subjects as they reach adolescence. Debunking the myths that girls do not like the sciences and other and gender stereotypes, along with investment in teacher trainings, gender-responsive technology and innovation can reverse these trends.

With Sustainable Development Goal 9, part of the Global Goals that world leaders agreed to in 2015 with a deadline of 2030, countries around the world have pledged to “build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation”. Yet, a look at where funding is allocated a different picture. At present, only 1.7 per cent of the global GDP is dedicated for research and experimental development.

As the fourth industrial revolution starts, women still have less than two-third of the economic opportunity that men have. The jobs of the future will be driven by technology and innovation, and if the gender divide in Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) is not bridged soon, the overall gender gap is likely to widen.

Less than 30 per cent of researchers worldwide are women. With too few women in decision making roles and higher-paying STEM jobs, the gender gap in STEM has deep implications for the future of global economy. For instance, women stand to gain only one new STEM job for every 20 lost, in stark contrast to men, who gain one new STEM job for every four lost. Improved recruitment, retention and promotion policies, as well as continuous learning and up-skilling for women can go a long way towards closing this gap.

On International Day of Women and Girls in Science, lets change this narrative. Join us in celebrating women and girls who are leading innovation and call for actions to remove all barriers that hold them back.

In a message for the International Day for Women and Girls in Science, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women and Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO highlight the importance of encouraging a new generation of women and girl scientists to tackle to major challenges of our time:

Recently, young women and girls around the world have been vocal in calling for action to combat climate change everywhere. When 16-year-old Swede Greta Thunberg charged World Economic Forum attendees in Switzerland to ‘act as if our house is on fire’, she was voicing sentiments similar to many of her age.

Women’s and girls’ voices and expertise in science, technology and innovation are vital to bring solutions to the disruptive change in our rapidly evolving world. We urgently need to close the gender gap in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields and actively promote gender equality in science, technology and innovation careers.

STEM skills form the basis of the fastest-growing job categories. Recent studies are showing that shifts in the global job market will result in 58 million net new jobs, particularly in data analysts and scientists; artificial intelligence and machine learning specialists; software and applications developers and analysts; and data visualization specialists.

Unfortunately, there is evidence of current problems for women in important jobs like engineering, with poor retention, advancement, and reintegration after maternity leave. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2018 shows, for example, that only 22 per cent of artificial intelligence professionals globally are female: a yawning gender gap that reflects significant issues like job segregation, and unfavourable working conditions.

In addition to addressing these barriers, improving digital connectivity and the accessibility of affordable technology can also ensure greater equality in STEM fields, enabling women and girls to benefit fully as scientists, students and citizens.

UN Women and UNESCO are working with partners around the world to close the gender gap in STEM fields and digital technologies.

One way that UN Women engages is through the Women’s Empowerment Principles. These principles offer companies—including those in digital sectors, information and communication technology, science technology and innovation and STEAM (STEM, plus art & design)—concrete guidance on empowering women in the workplace, marketplace and community. UN Women calls upon all companies who want to make the commitment to gender equality and women’s economic empowerment to sign and implement these principles.

Tackling inequalities early within the education system is vital, which is why UNESCO works to stimulate girls’ interest in STEM subjects, combat stereotypes in school curriculum and increase access to female mentors. In addition, we encourage women scientists through initiatives such as the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Programme and the Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World, which provide fellowships, networking and mentoring opportunities for women researchers around the world. Finally, the STEM and Gender Advancement project supports the inclusion of gender equality in national science, technology and innovation policies, strategies, plans and legislation by focusing on the collection of sex-disaggregated data.

Through all these initiatives, we are determined to encourage a new generation of women and girl scientists, to tackle the major challenges of our time. Heeding the call of Greta Thunberg, young women scientists are already making a difference in the fight against climate change, including South-African teenager Kiara Nirghin whose inventions minimize the impact of droughts.

By harnessing the creativity and innovation of all women and girls in science, and properly investing in inclusive STEM education, research and development and science, technology and innovation ecosystems, we have an unprecedented opportunity to leverage the potential of the Fourth Industrial Revolution to benefit society.”