UN International Day for Women and Girls in Science

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You could be her! Meteorologist Claudia Riedl changes measurement equipment in the drill holes of the permafrost project Sonnblick observatory, Austria. Photo credit: World Meteorological Organization

I was pleased to learn from Evil Genius Mum that this Saturday, February 11th, is the United Nations International Day of Women and Girls in Science. We here at GeekMom are so excited! We here have been chatting about our favorite scientists, both in real life (Sally Ride, Grace Hopper, Katharine Johnson, or how about naval engineer Raye Donahue) as well as role models that we can find in pop culture (such as Dana Scully, Amy Farrah Fowler, and Poison Ivy).

“So what is the UN International Day for Women and Girls in Science?”

Well, it’s a relatively recent development, with a UN resolution adopted in December 2015 to designate February 11th each year as a day to recognize the achievements of  women and girls in science and technology. From the United Nations website:

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.

UNESCO has played a large role in getting this resolution launched. Irina Bokova, the Director-General of UNESCO, issued this statement in commemoration:

This International Day of Women and Girls in Science is an opportunity for all to take a stand for girls and women in science.

Girls continue 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.

At the same time, girls and women shoulder the heaviest burdens of poverty and inequality – they stand on the frontlines of climate change, including 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. This message was sent during the last two Conferences of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 21 and 22). 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. This goal underpins the Manifesto ‘For Women in Science’ that UNESCO launched last year 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 DG/ME/ID/2017/03 – Page 2 development. We must raise awareness about the work of women scientists by providing equal opportunities for their participation and leadership in a broad spectrum of high-level scientific bodies and events.

The world needs science and science needs women. We invite everyone to sign this Manifesto. Together, we can make a difference.

“I see an invitation to sign a manifesto. I’m there! What else can I do?”

The manifesto, sponsored by the L’Oreal Foundation, is simply a commitment to continue to recognize that women and girls are valued members of the scientific community, and we need to lead by example and by active voice to encourage women into STEM fields in our local communities. I trust that most of our readers already feel this way, so it probably isn’t that much of a stretch join over 90,000 others in clicking the link and adding your name to the roll. The commitment includes the following points.

  1. Encourage girls to explore scientific career paths. [Patricia’s note: If they want to.]
  2. Break down the barriers that prevent women scientists from pursuing long term careers in research.
  3. Prioritize women’s access to senior positions and leadership positions in the sciences.
  4. Celebrate with the general public the contribution that women scientists make to scientific progress and to society.
  5. Ensure gender equality through participation and leadership in symposium and scientific commissions such as conferences, committees and board meetings.
  6. Promote mentoring and networking for young scientists to enable them to plan and develop careers that meet their expectations.

You want to get more involved? Start local. Look for places where you can encourage STEM involvement in your community. Are you a female in science? Set the example! Put yourself out there through STEM outreach programs. I personally take part in two such programs in my local community: Girls in the Middle, which allows for STEM outreach opportunities for middle school girls in rural Colorado, and the Southern Colorado Girls STEM Initiative, which serves the Colorado Springs area. I help to run workshops and answer questions that middle school girls might have about careers in science.

National opportunities also exist. In the United States, NASA has a fantastic mentoring program called Women@NASA and every summer they open applications for 5th – 8th graders (male and female alike) to apply for one-on-one mentoring with a NASA scientist. This is a very competitive program, but an amazing way to get your favorite youth to seriously consider a STEM career. GeekMom Ariane has been following the program closely and has written about it on more than one occasion!

During the 2016 State of the Union address, President Obama proposed the “Computer Science for All” program, and requested $4M to fund it. This is a program designed to inspire our nation’s public schools to incorporate computer programming classes into graduation requirements, but numerous additional organizations have pitched in, such as with Google’s Made with Code and Microsoft’s DigiGirlz programs. These public-private cooperations will continue to provide opportunities for girls to learn to code, receive valuable mentorship, and spend time immersed in facilities where women are regarded as valuable contributors to the workplace.

“Where can I learn more?”

Like most other things in our world today, feel free to explore the event’s website to learn more about the day, and see resources and success stories of programs for involving more women and girls in science.

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