By Prudence Arobani
The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has called for the empowerment of women and the encouragement of girls to learn and research into science.
UNESCO said this will enable the world realise the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and make the world a better place to live by 2030.
UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova, in her message on the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, commemorated on February 11, called on all nations to take a stand for girls and women in science.
Bokova said: “Almost 21 years after the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action from the Fourth World Conference on Women, women remain underrepresented in the natural sciences.
“According to the most recent UNESCO Science Report, women account for only 28 per cent of researchers across the world, with the gap deepening at the higher echelons of decision- making”.
She said that women have less access to funding, to networks, to senior positions, which puts them at a further disadvantage in high-impact science publishing.
“This calls for deep and sustained change, starting in the earliest years through improved participation of women and girls in science education, training and research activities at all levels.
“Girls’ and women’s access to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics cannot be envisaged when girls and women remain the majority of out-of-school children, youth and illiterate adults.
“This gap throws a shadow over entire societies, as no country can move forward with only half its creativity, energy, and dreams.”
The UNESCO chief said that girls continued to face stereotypes and social and cultural restrictions, limiting access to education and funding for research, preventing them from scientific careers and reaching their full potential.
“Women remain a minority in science research and decision-making.
“This throws a shadow over all efforts to reach the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change – both of which highlight the key roles of gender equality and science”.
Bokova also said that girls and women shoulder the heaviest burdens of poverty and inequality as they stand on the frontlines of climate change.
“This includes the disasters resulting from natural hazards. Girls and women in rural and disadvantaged areas are hit hardest.
“Meaningful progress must start with the rights and dignity of women, by nurturing their ingenuity and innovation.
“Humanity cannot afford to ignore half of its creative genius.
“Girls and women must be empowered at every level, in learning and research, from administration to teaching, across all scientific fields,” she said.
She noted the ‘Manifesto for Women in Science’ that UNESCO launched in 2016 with the L’Oréal Foundation, to engage Governments and stakeholders in promoting the full participation of girls and women in science.
“We must inspire girls and young women by offering mentoring opportunities to young women scientists to assist in their career development.
On its part, the UN Entity on Women’s Empowerment and Gender Equality (UN Women) noted that 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 skills in science and technological fields 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.”