Today, Feb 11th, we observe and celebrate the International Day of Women and Girls in Science declared by UN Women and UNESCO.
According to UNESCO, the International Day of Women and Girls in Science represents "an opportunity to promote full and equal access to and participation in science for women and girls." Furthermore, "gender equality is a global priority for UNESCO, and the support of young girls, their education and their full ability to make their ideas heard are levers for development and peace."
On this day we reflect on how we can all contribute towards empowering and increasing participation of women and girls in the science and technology communities moving forward.
The Origin and Goals of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science
The Internal Day of Women and Girls in Science was declared by the United Nations General Assembly in December 2015.
Like the International Day of Education, the goals of the day are both to help the UNESCO reach its 2030 Sustainable Development Goals as well as to promote the full participation and inclusion of women and girls in science.
Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary-General, urges "commitment to end bias, greater investments in STEM education for all women and girls as well as opportunities for their careers and longer-term professional advancement so that all can benefit from their ground-breaking future contributions."
Statistics Regarding the International Day of Women and Girls in Science
Statistics from the UN and UN Women include:
- Women around the world have 2/3 of the economic opportunity that men have
- Less than 30% of researchers worldwide are women
- Around only 30% of all female higher education students select STEM-related fields
- Global female student enrollment is particularly low in:
- Information and Communication Technology (ICT): 3%
- Natural science, mathematics, and statistics: 5%
- Engineering, manufacturing, and construction: 8%
Marking the Day in Your Classroom
Depending on the age of your students, sharing and discussing these facts and figures may or may not be an appropriate way to observe the International Day of Women and Girls in Science in your classroom. Here are some activities to consider:
- (For younger students) Draw or trace the outline of a body on a couple of pieces of butcher paper. Students should work together in small groups to fill in the outline with drawings and words which reflect the qualities and actions of scientists. For example, highlighting that eyes can be used for observation and hands for exploration or experimentation. Once they are done, students can share their creations with one another and explore which scientist-like qualities they already possess in themselves. Introducing a couple of significant women scientists could be a nice way to wrap up the activity.
- (For older students) Learn about the critical contributions Katherine Johnson made at NASA through this video from Flocabulary. Her story may be familiar to students from the movie Hidden Figures and is a great jumping-off point for a discussion about obstacles that people face when pursuing their goals.
- (For older students) Role play this scenario: the school is planning an important fundraiser which will support all of its after-school clubs and activities. Who should plan this event and why? Dig into the benefits of having many minds and perspectives participating in the process. Historically, there have been scientific inquiries that were limited by the perspectives of those involved (for example, the initial air bag design, which was created by a team of men, did not consider its impact on the bodies of women or children). This day is about highlighting the critical importance of having many different people and perspectives around the table. This exercise helps illuminate the value of different perspectives in pursuit of a goal.
No matter how you mark the day, be sure to take a moment to reflect on the critical role you play as an educator in the facilitation of the empowerment of women and girls in science. Without educators, the ambitious goals of UN Women and UNESCO could never be realized.