11th February, globally marks the International Day for Women and Girls in Science. The Day was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly to promote full and equal access to and participation in science for women and girls. This Day is a reminder that women and girls play a critical role in science and technology communities and that their participation should be strengthened. According to UNESCO (2018) science and gender equality are both vital for sustainable development; however, women and girls continue to be excluded from participating fully in science, with less than 30% of researchers worldwide being women.
The World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report 2018 highlights alarming gender gaps across various sectors, with highest disparities being in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) sector. UN Women and UNESCO are working with partners around the world to close the gender gap in STEM fields and digital technologies, through addressing gender stereotypes, and increased promotion of investment in teacher trainings and gender-responsive technology and innovation.
SAfAIDS joins UN Women, UNESCO and the rest of the world in commemorating this Day; highlighting the gender gaps in education, professional training and employment, as well as celebrating the ground-breaking contributions continuously made by women and girls through scientific research and innovation across the STEM sector. SAfAIDS joins like-minded global and regional stakeholders in promoting women and girls' access to and participation in science, through advocacy for increased opportunities for women and girls in education at all levels, including higher, tertiary and professional skills training in STEM. As this Day is commemorated this year, there is a need to highlight the lived realities of women and girls and the daily struggle for gender equality across generations, continents and professions, including limited access to education, particularly in STEM and the ongoing battle for entry, retention and reintegration into STEM jobs, especially after maternity leave. It is critical for all stakeholders to collectively create and increase sustained opportunities for women and girls to fully realise their potential, and call for the active recognition and harnessing of their full talent and skills.
SAfAIDS remains committed to promoting gender equality and improving education and mentoring opportunities for women and girls; fully recognizing increased positive sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) outcomes for women, as a result of women and girls’ increased participation in science and technology over the years. Through the Regional Young People’s Leadership Academy, SAfAIDS continuously aims to develop and nurture the capacity and skills of adolescent girls and young women in research; fostering a generation of young women interested in scientific research, improving HIV and SRHR responses, among wider public health responses and innovations. Additionally, through the regional Transforming Lives programme, SAfAIDS is piloting MobiSAfAIDS, a mobile application set to improve access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health information and services. The mobile application was developed by a female-led team, and is being spearheaded by a team of young people (over 60% being female) across 6 countries in the SADC Region, using ICT to strengthen effective and ethical development responses.
As we commemorate this day, let us renew our commitment for amplified collective advocacy towards gender equality through increased education and employment opportunities and inclusion and meaningful participation of women and girls in STEM. Additionally, let us continue to celebrate trailblazing women and girls who have contributed to innovative research, invention and improvements in science and technology across all sectors.
Knowledge for action: The power to make a difference!