United Nations(UN) has declared February 11 as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. On hearing this the primary question that arise in our mind is why is it specific to women and what is the need of a day for women in Science and not any other field?
A little bit of research on this gave an insight to these questions and that’s what the blog is all about. A study conducted by United Nations in 14 countries showed that Women who acquired a qualification in Science is lesser when compared to men. While the percentage of women who have Science related degrees is 28%, it is 63% for men. Science literacy and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education is important to create critical thinkers and future innovators. While the world is heading towards advancements in Science and Technology, it is always beneficial for a country to increase the number of science literates. In order to eradicate gender inequality in the field of science and to ensure equal participation for both men and women in the areas of STEM United Nations General Assembly declared 11 February as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science.
Now let’s us dig into the current statistics of STEM careers and the involvement of women in detail.
The above figure is based on the data reported by the U. S. Department of Commerce. It shows that Women filled 47 percent of all U.S. jobs in 2015 but held only 24 percent of STEM jobs.
The statistics arises another thought, women are moving away from STEM related careers. And what might be the reason for that?
According to UNESCO’s new publication, Cracking the code: girls’ and women’s education in STEM, the biggest challenge for the involvement of women in STEM is Gender stereotypes and biased attitudes. The upbringing of girls and boys have a significant role in the ‘choices’ that they make. Girls are brought up to believe that STEM subjects are “masculine” topics and that female ability in STEM is innately inferior to that of male. Education systems and schools also play a central role in determining girls’ interest in STEM subjects and ultimately, STEM careers. Even women with a degree in Science prefer to continue in non-STEM jobs or move to healthcare or education.
Let us see what can be done to get women involved in STEM education and choose STEM careers.
Parents and teachers play an important role in the choices than an individual make for his studies and career. They should encourage kids to imbibe on Critical thinking which generate an interest in Science. children should be taught to question everything and look for scientific evidence for every information that they get.
The sex of STEM teachers appears to make a difference too. Female STEM teachers have a positive influence on girls’ performance and engagement with further STEM studies and careers. In contrast, girls’ learning experience in STEM is compromised when teachers hold stereotypical beliefs about sex-based STEM ability or treat boys and girls unequally in the classroom. Media representations of women, and the status of gender equality in society also has an important influence, as it influences the expectations and status of women, including in STEM careers.
On this remarkable day let us see some of the historical achievements of women scientists:
Rosalind Franklin, Molecular Biologist: Photo 51
Rosalind Franklin, played an indispensable role in the process of discovering the ‘‘winding staircase’ structure, of DNA although James Watson and Francis Crick are most-often associated with the revelation
Gail Martin, Biologist: Stem Cell Pioneer
In 1981, Martin found a way to isolate embryonic stem cells (cells known for their ability to multiply and differentiate into any of the three cell types) and cultivate them in-vitro. This discovery expanded possibilities for a multitude of treatments and further research.
Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, Virologist: A Life Dedicated to AIDS Research
In 1983, Françoise Barré-Sinoussi identified that the cause of AIDS was the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Her discovery laid the foundation for the development of effective treatment and other factors such as mother-child transmission.
Mary-Claire King, Geneticist: Battling Breast Cancer
King’s research laid the foundation for the identification of the actual breast cancer-causing gene, BRCA1, and has enabled the development of many testing, screening, and treatment procedures.
Marie Maynard Daly, Ph.D.
Marie Daly discovered the relationship between high cholesterol and clogged arteries, and the correlation between smoking and lung disease. Her work uncovered how diet can affect heart health.
Anne McClaren - Paved the way for IVF treatment
Anne McClaren is a leading figure in developmental biology, and was appreciated for her work of mouse embryonic transfer which helped to develop the techniques used in human IVF.
There are many more women scientists around the world who has fascinated us with their discoveries.
Science literacy and critical thinking go hand in hand. Critical thinking is the ability to question and understand the facts before swallowing the information. So how does science literacy evoke critical thinkers? Science is always backed up with experimental proofs and measurable results and is based on fact and not opinions or beliefs. Every day of our life is based on the choices that we make, these choices are based on the information we receive and perceive. If we can accomplish two things - literacy in science and a critical thinking mindset then all the choices that we make would be innovative, healthier and more sustainable. Let us hope and ensure that the initiatives planned worldwide for the International day of Women and girls in science will help improve the participation of Women in STEM there by increasing science literacy which creates critical thinkers and next generation of innovators.
About the author: Suja Sukumaran