A significant gender gap has persisted throughout the years at all levels of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines all over the world. Even though women have made tremendous progress towards increasing their participation in higher education, they are still under-represented in these fields.
Gender equality has always been a core issue for the United Nations. Gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls will make a crucial contribution not only to economic development of the world, but to progress across all the goals and targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, as well.
On 14 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. On 20 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.
On 22 December 2015, the General Assembly adopted a resolution to establish an annual International Day to recognize the critical role women and girls play in science and technology communities. In welcoming the efforts of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and other relevant organizations that support and promote the access of women and girls and their participation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics education, training and research activities at all levels decided to proclaim 11 February of each year the International Day of Women and Girls in Science.
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 General Assembly adopted resolution A/RES/70/212 declaring 11 February as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science.
Science and gender equality are both vital for the achievement of the internationally agreed development goals, including the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Over the past decades, the global community has made a lot of effort in inspiring and engaging women and girls in science. Yet women and girls continue to be excluded from participating fully in science.
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Women and the digital revolution
Women accounted for one in three (33%) researchers in 2018. They have achieved parity (in numbers) in life sciences in many countries and even dominate this field, in some cases. However, women remain a minority in digital information technology, computing, physics, mathematics and engineering. These are the fields that are driving the digital revolution and so, many of the jobs of tomorrow.
Despite a shortage of skills in most of the technological fields driving the Fourth Industrial Revolution, women still account for only 28% of engineering graduates and 40% of graduates in computer science and informatics, according to the UNESCO Science Report, whose chapter on gender in science, entitled To be Smart the Digital Revolution will Need to be Inclusive.
Women are not benefitting fully from employment opportunities open to highly educated and skilled experts in cutting edge fields such as artificial intelligence where only one in five professionals (22%) is a woman, according to a 2018 study by the World Economic Forum on the Global Gender Gap.
Likewise, women founders of start-ups still struggle to access finance and, in large tech companies they remain underrepresented in both leadership and technical positions. They are also more likely than men to leave the tech field, often citing poor career prospects as a key motivation for their decision. Corporate attitudes towards women are evolving, however, as studies link investor confidence and greater profit margins to having a diverse workforce.
Women need to be part of the digital economy to prevent Industry 4.0 from perpetuating traditional gender biases. As the impact of artificial intelligence on societal priorities continues to grow, the underrepresentation of women’s contribution to research and development means that their needs and perspectives are likely to be overlooked in the design of products that impact our daily lives, such as smartphone applications.
The glass ceiling also remains an obstacle to women’s careers in academia, despite some progress. Globally, women have achieved numerical parity (45–55%) at the bachelor’s and master’s levels of study and are on the cusp at PhD level (44%), according to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics.
The gender gap widens as women progress in their academic careers, with lower participation at each successive rung of the ladder from doctoral student to assistant professor to director of research or full professor.
Overall, female researchers tend to have shorter, less well-paid careers. Their work is underrepresented in high-profile journals and they are often passed over for promotion. Women are typically given smaller research grants than their male colleagues and, while they represent 33.3% of all researchers, only 12% of members of national science academies are women.
The gender bias is also found in peer-review processes and at scientific conferences at which men are invited to speak on scientific panels twice as often as women. (Data on the global share of female researchers is based on information collected over 2015-2018 by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics from 107 countries.)
Women in STEM education in India
Between the academic years 2015-16 and 2019-20, 1,96,50,740 women had enrolled in STEM courses, according to the All India Survey on Higher Education (AISHE) survey. In 2019-20 alone, 41,40,997 women had enrolled in STEM undergraduate, postgraduate, MPhil and PhD courses combined.
Of all the states, Tamil Nadu saw the maximum number of enrollment. In these five years, TN alone saw an enrollment of 30,80,669 women students. It is followed by Uttar Pradesh with a total enrollment of 24,65,430 students.
Source : UN
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