On February 11, the United Nations marks the international day to make the world aware and educate the people on the vital role that women and girls could play in science, with modern technology making it possible for us to do in two minutes what we earlier would have needed two hours.According to the UN, Science and gender equality are vital for the achievement of the internationally agreed development goals, including the 2030 agenda for sustainable development.
Over the past 15 years, the global community has made great efforts in inspiring and engaging women and girls in science. Yet women and girls continue to be excluded from participating fully in science. At present where worldwide researchers are concerned, only about 30 per cent are women. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) data for the period 2014 to 2016, only around 30 pe rcent of all female students select science, technology, engineering or mathematics in higher education. Globally, female students’ enrollment is particularly low in the information and communication technology field where the figure is as little as three per cent. In natural science, mathematics and statistics, the number of females is only five per cent. In engineering, manufacturing and construction, the figure is eight per cent.
Long-standing biases and gender stereotypes are steering girls and women away from science-related fields. As in the real world, the world on screen reflects similar biases -- the 2015 gender bias without borders study by the Geena Davis Institute showed that of the onscreen characters with an identifiable science, technology, engineering and mathematics job, only 12 per cent are women, the UN says.
To achieve full and equal access to and participation in science for women and girls, and further achieve gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution declaring February 11 as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. A significant gender gap has persisted throughout the years at all levels of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Even though women have made tremendous progress towards increasing their participation in higher education, they are still under-represented in these fields. Gender equality has always been a core issue for the UN. On March 14, 2011, the Commission on the Status of Women adopted a report at its 55th session, with agreed conclusions on access and participation of women and girls in education, training and science and technology, and for the promotion of women’s equal access to full employment and decent work. On December 20, 2013, the General Assembly adopted a resolution on science, technology and innovation for development. It recognized that full and equal access to and participation in science, technology and innovation for women and girls of all ages was imperative for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.
In a message to mark the event, UN Secretary General António Guterres says science is a collaborative discipline. Yet science is being held back by a gender gap. Girls and boys perform equally well in science and mathematics – but only a fraction of female students in higher education choose to study sciences.
The UN chief says to rise to the challenges of the 21st century, we need to harness our full potential. That requires dismantling gender stereotypes. It means supporting the careers of women scientists and researchers. In this year, in which we mark the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the UN chief says we should bring new urgency to promoting women’s and girls’ access to science education, training and jobs.
In Sri Lanka, the situation is similar. Though the government is trying to ensure that in parliament 25 per cent are women, in the key fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the female participation figure is as low as in most of the other countries.
While around 50% of the student population who enter the medical faculty are females, only a small percentage of them make further progress, either in the academic arena or in other specialized fields according to Punnami Amarasinghe who has done research in this field. But the situation is improving steadily and hopefully there will come a day when we don’t have to feel proud because women achieved something big in the field of medicine and everyone would be judged on their talent and not by gender.