International Women’s Day: Take STEMinist Action for Girls and Women

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Contributed by Kata Lucas

International Women's Day (March 8, 2024) is an opportunity to build support for women's rights and take action to address barriers to gender equity. The day, rooted in the struggles of women suffragists and labor activists in the U.S. and Europe, grew into a "rallying point" for activists globally in the 1970s. The day celebrates women's achievements and serves as a platform to educate the public and mobilize for change on intersectional barriers to women's rights and gender justice. 

This year's theme, "Invest in Women: Accelerate Progress," highlights the urgency of directing resources to address the gendered and disproportional effects of poverty and the current economic system on the lives of women and girls. 

Supporting women and girls along their educational and career pathways to participate in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) learning and professions is critical to investing in and accelerating progress to foster gender-equitable systems globally. 

Too often, initiatives to foster equity in STEM within the U.S. remain US-centric, disconnected from global efforts for gender equity, sustainable development, and digital literacy and access. This year, in honor of International Women's Day, the National Girls Collaborative Project (NGCP) is raising awareness of multiple barriers to STEM learning, digital skills, and STEM professions that women and girls face globally.   

Gender Inequities in STEM  

Across more than 120 countries surveyed by The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), women represent only 35% of students enrolled in STEM-related disciplines. In the workforce, a gender divide persists, as women are highly represented in fields associated with health (medicine, chemistry, and biology) and are highly underrepresented in mathematics and engineering fields, reinforcing gender stereotypes that falsely associate femininity with caregiving and masculinity with math and science. In technology, women constitute only 22% of those working in AI, and women remain underrepresented in technical and leadership roles at technology companies.  

These gender differences are not a reflection of abilities but are the product of a complex web of inequities that have differential and nuanced local and global impacts across countries and regions. Stereotypes about who belongs and is successful in STEM, gender biases in learning materials and teaching practices, and lack of access to retable role models or mentors hinder and often exclude girls and women's participation and access to STEM education and career pathways. Male-dominated workplace cultures in technology and many STEM-related industries that perpetuate stereotypes and other discriminatory practices hinder retention and prevent many women from accessing these fields. See the Expert Meeting Group report from the 67th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW67)  

Gendered Digital Divide  

Beyond formal education, a global gender gap in digital skills, meaningful connectivity, and internet access persists, especially in low- and middle-income countries. Women are 25% less likely than men to have the "basic knowledge" to access digital technology, and many women do not have affordable access and a supportive social environment to use the internet, impacting their ability to pursue education, book health appointments, and other public services.  

The intersection of gender with other forms of inequity, including class, citizenship status, and disability, creates compounding barriers to technology access and digital skills. For example, girls from low socioeconomic backgrounds have less access to STEM activities and support from parents/families, migrant and refugee women, and girls are severely impacted by barriers to Internet access and SIM cards, and girls and women with disabilities are frequently underestimated for their skills, stigmatized, and face barriers related to accessibility in the workplace. 

Striving for gender equity in STEM fields is not only for the benefit of individual women and their economic mobility but is critical for infusing diverse representation into fields that are central to innovation and advancement and to addressing interconnected crises related to our environment and livelihoods, including by shifting towards green and care economies  

Learn More and Take Action  

International Women's Day is an opportunity to learn and foster change in STEM spaces and beyond. We all can play a role in shifting discriminatory practices that hinder girls' and women's participation and access to STEM learning, digital skills, and career pathways. Educators, parents/caregivers, and allies can change the narrative and engage girls by:  

  • Countering stereotypes about STEM people, skills, and career pathways. Break stereotypes explicitly by talking about stereotypes with girls and youth, and implicitly by incorporating books, media, and activities that showcase the diversity of STEM people, their characteristics and skill sets, and lived experiences. 
  • Making STEM careers personally and culturally relevant for girls. Get to know girls and learn about their interests, knowledge, skills, culture, and lived experiences. Choose hands-on activities and digital projects that connect STEM to the real world to showcase how STEM is interdisciplinary, relates to us all, and is critical to addressing complex problems.  
  • Exposing girls to diverse women role models. Introduce girls to diverse women role models through books, media, in-person, and online experiences to shift perceptions about who belongs in STEM, dispelling stereotypes about STEM people, skills, and careers.  

Below is a list of resources that highlight research-based strategies for engaging girls in STEM learning and fostering digital skills, global reports on gender, STEM, and digital skills, and global and regional initiatives and organizations for working to support girls and women in STEM learning and skill development, as well as on their career pathways. Take STEMinist action on International Women’s Day and every day to support and engage girls and women in STEM.  

Resources for Supporting and Engaging Girls  

  • Career Girl Resources – quizzes for girls and youth to explore their interests, career exploration videos and resources, and guides for educators, mentors, and families.   

  • Gage Global Database – powered by 500 Women Scientists, a global database of women and gender-diverse STEM professionals. 

  • IF/THEN® Collection – a digital library of thousands of photos, videos, and other assets that authentically represent women STEM. 

  • Tech Trailblazers – a digital storytelling collection of eight adolescent girls and young women “recoding” gender equality. 

  • Smithsonian Science for Global Goals – a collection of community research guides for youth to use in their communities to investigate the science that grounds the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

Global and Regional Reports  

Initiatives and Organizations with a Global and Regional Reach   

  • 500 Women Scientists – a global grassroots organization with a mission to make science open, inclusive, and accessible.   

  • AkiraChix – a nonprofit with a focus on supporting women in East Africa with technology skills. 

  • CAMFED – a nonprofit serving girls and young women in rural Africa, including through education and STEM-related skills training and mentorship.  

  • IGNITE Worldwide – a nonprofit providing training globally to support educators in engaging girls and non-binary youth in STEM learning.   
  • Girl Up – a girl-centered leadership development initiative of the UN Foundation.  

  • Million Women Mentors – an engagement campaign to mobilize corporations, government entities, nonprofit and higher education groups, around mentoring girls and young women in STEM fields.  

  • Pride in STEM – an independent group of LGBTQIA+ scientists and engineers from around the world raising awareness of diverse STEM professionals through events and resources.   
  • Skills4Girls – a UNICEF initiative and resource hub focused on supporting girls in 20 countries with digital and STEM-related skills.  

  • Technovation – a global technology education nonprofit that inspires girls to be leaders and problem solvers in their lives and their communities. 

Kata lucas, woman with blonde hair and glasses

Kata Lucas

Kata Lucas is a Senior Researcher with the National Girls Collaborative Project. In this role, Kata supports efforts to communicate research-to-practice through professional development training, written products, and program design. She manages the program implementation for BRITE Girls Online STEM Practices: Building Relevance and Identity to Transform Experiences, an NSF AISL research-to-practice grant. She is interested in the impacts of role model engagement on girls’ STEM identity development and is passionate about communicating and integrating intersectionality and feminist research into practice. Kata has a Master’s in International Affairs from The New School.

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