We have all seen or at least heard about the movie called ‘Hidden Figures.’ It follows the story of three female African-American mathematicians who worked at National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and played pivotal roles in the space mission. Away from other aspects of the movie, the focus today is on the power that women can have in the world of science. Hidden Figures showed us that among other lessons we can glean, there is no limit on the might and minds of women.
February 11th has been earmarked as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science and the special day enters its 9th year of celebration this year. It underscores the UN’s commitment to ensuring access and participation of women and girls in education, training and science and technology.
Further analysis will reveal that the basis of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science is gender equality. Essentially, it is a call for the world to take a closer look at the discrepancies that exist in this very important field and to acknowledge that despite the advancements recorded, gender equality is a goal that is still far from being reached.
Take for instance, the Fields Medal, a prestigious international award in mathematics, since its inception in 1936 has been awarded to 64 people with only 2 being females. Further, the United Nations notes that female researchers tend to have shorter, less well-paid careers and are typically given smaller research grants than their male colleagues.
Research shows that one of the reasons for this discrepancy is gender stereotypes. Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields are usually viewed as masculine and this leads parents and teachers to steer female children away from the field. Another factor is the belief that the girl child just won’t be good at these fields.
The reason why international days and articles like this exist is simply for awareness. We cannot begin to solve a problem when we are not even aware that a problem exists. The reality is that a gender gap in STEM fields exists and the implication of this is that economic development will be slower unless we can be proactive and lessen the gap.
Women represent a majority of all graduates from tertiary education in most countries and yet, fewer women than men complete STEM university degrees. This shows that in terms of creating a positive mindset, a university education is too late. What this means is that encouragement for more women to participate in STEM must begin earlier than before they enter into the university. Girls should be encouraged to pick any career path they may desire and should not be dissuaded on the ground that it is a path more suited for “boys.”
Lack of role models is another reason for the gender gap. However, this is quickly becoming a problem of the past as there are over 60 female-led tech startups in Nigeria alone. These include Shuttlers, Herconomy, and Okra. Let’s not forget the real heroines of the Hidden Figures movie referred to above, mathematicians Katherine Goble Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson.
This year’s International Day of Women and Girls in Science Assembly will take place between 8th – 9th February 2024 at the United Nations Headquarters, New York City. While not all of us will be able to make it there physically, it doesn’t stop us from being part of the celebrations wherever our little corner of the world may be. What matters is that we are now aware of the day and we get to work in raising awareness and celebrating women and girls in science all over the world because they deserve it.
Encourage girls in STEM fields from an early age and help to remove obstacles for their education and career development
Be proactive and shed light on any form of discrimination you may be aware of within your circle
Explore online engagement to strengthen participation and awareness
Sponsor women and girls to participate in STEM workshops, conferences, seminars and exhibitions
When asked, tell that female “yes you can.” Don't let gender be the thing that keeps them away from opportunities.
Learn more about how you can get involved through the Women in Science Day website
WRITTEN BY Favour Ogbadu.
Favour Ogbadu is a certified lawyer and an aspiring International development practitioner. An avid reader, her passion for writing stems from her love of written works. She is a firm believer in using talents and skills for the greater good. Connect with Favour on LinkedIn.
EDITED BY Chizulu Uwolloh.
'Zulu is a writer, international development professional, and lawyer passionate about social impact and showing people how they can create change in their communities.
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