Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) play a key role in the sustained growth and stability of any economy. Stem related concepts foster creative thinking and enables the next generation of innovators. This is especially important for developing countries where innovation can lead to new products and processes that can accelerate and sustain growth and development.
For nations to realise the full benefits of STEM, students and productive working groups must have equal access and opportunities. This is in line with sustainable development goal (SDG) 4 – quality education, that aims to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education, and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.
Historically and particularly in developing countries, the education of males has been prioritised more than that of females. Even now with efforts by the global community to give equal access to both genders in education, girls are systematically side tracked from science limiting their preparation, access and opportunities to go into STEM career paths.
Assuming that there is equal education opportunity for both boys and girls, most females will often still be inclined to choose a non-STEM career path due to various reasons. First, many myths surround STEM careers, such as boys having math brains when compared to girls or that the workplaces are too male dominated and not supportive of women. However, there is no scientific evidence that shows innate cognitive biological differences between men and women in math or science.
Secondly, there is little to no effort towards early intervention to get girls excited about STEM. Teachers and parents who offer guidance and advice at education and career phases often underestimate girls’ science and math abilities starting as early as pre-school. This can create a confidence gap. Thirdly, domestic pressures on girls and women including marriage and family responsibilities force them to take ‘less demanding courses and jobs.’ Lastly, lack of female role models to inspire interest and motivate girls and young women towards the STEM career path.
As we mark the 7th World International Day for Women and Girls in Science, let us not only celebrate the great women leading innovations in science but commit to empower girls and young women to participate in STEM fields, as well as lead and innovate. We must close the gender STEM gap and this can be achieved by giving girls and women the skills and confidence to succeed in math and science using various strategies at an early learning phase i.e., elementary phase. Such strategies include:
- Raise awareness and foster confidence among girls and women that they are just as capable as their male counterparts
- Give girls equitable encouragement and educational opportunities mostly in the community where boys are favored over girls.
- Empower women in all facets of their lives
- Promote public awareness to parents about how they can encourage daughters as much as sons in math and science.
- Accentuate strong and visible role models of women in math and science fields. This can be supported through mentorship where women in the STEM career to mentor boys and girls during their career path.
The Leaving no-one behInd: Transforming Gendered pathways to Health for TB (LIGHT) Consortium has at its heart the mission to equitably encourage all genders to pursue careers in STEM – to inspire and mentor early career researchers and to provide a safe and secure working environment within which all can flourish.
About the authors
Leyla Hussein Abdullahi is a Research and Policy Analyst at the African Institute for Development Policy (AFIDEP). She is also a Research Uptake manager for the LIGHT project.
Ann Waithaka supports AFIDEP’s Communications and Policy Engagement efforts. In the LIGHT project, she provides core communication support to promote visibility for the Consortium’s work.