Science and technology is a dynamic field that is constantly evolving and growing, but in one aspect it seems to remain stagnant, and that is the gender inequality that exists to this day. Even today, only one in three scientists (33 percent) are women, as reported by a UNESCO Scientific Report 2021. This not only causes permanent damage to women in the short term, but also hinders the development of societies, innovation and more in the long term.
Let’s explore why women are so underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The low engagement of girls and women in science can be attributed to a myriad of reasons, such as the gender stereotype that has existed for generations in households and educational institutions that boys are better suited to science and are more likely to succeed in professions, STEM-based .
This belief also leads people to believe that because STEM careers are highly male-dominated fields, they are not an appropriate field or career path for women to enter or work in. Cultural attitudes such as the ideology that investing in boys’ education rather than girls’ education would be more beneficial and yield higher returns is also another reason why girls are systematically missing out on the opportunity to learn.
The consequences of these stereotypes and cultural attitudes are dire, as they deprive women of the growing economic opportunities that are being generated due to the increase in digitized economies. It also leads to harmful technologies such as algorithms that discriminate against female job seekers.
They deny girls the basic right to education, because Article 21-A and on Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act. which entered into force on April 1, 2010 provide. These it works providefree and mandatory‘ education for all children between the ages of six and fourteen, making it a fundamental right. The current ruling dispensation has started women empowerment campaign named “Betty Bachao Betty Padhao” in 2015 to address girls’ education.
However, it is clear from the ads that are being circulated that the message being promoted is one of misogyny, not equality. The ad “Kaise khaoge unke haath ki rotiya, jab paida hone nahi doge betiyan” translates to “How will you eat bread from their hands, not allowing daughters to be born“. The ad appears to be advocating traditional gender roles rather than preventing female feticide and facilitating equality between girls and women.
The an approach adopted by Mexico that is showing promise is providing middle school students as well as their parents with information about the huge demand for and pay for STEM-based jobs. When they have this information, concerns about whether such a career is suitable for a woman tend to evaporate.
A study by National Assessments and Benchmarking of Gender, Science, Technology and Innovation assessed the level of support, opportunities and participation of women in science in various countries around the world such as the European Union, USA, Brazil, South Africa, India, Korea and Indonesia. The study found that there is an inequality of opportunity as women have less access to resources such as education, technology, finance and more, and this ultimately affects their employability.
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The World Economic Forum finds this women working in science and technology have less access to funding than men. It is also reported by Harvard Business Review that female-led startups received only 2.3 percent of venture capital as of 2020. The study also notes that women from countries that treat them as second-class citizens and consider them to be of low social status, therefore, they have to face disadvantages from the beginning of their lives and are prone to insufficient health care.
The study further states that even when women take science and technology programs, about 30 percent are said to drop out due to a lack of flexibility around work hours and childcare. Sophia Heuer says: “Women have greater parity in countries with government policies that support childcare, equal pay, flexible working and gender mainstreaming.”
Such changes could help achieve equality of opportunity and representation. Economies were ranked for gender equality, with the survey taking into account health, social and economic status, access to resources and opportunities; public policies such as childcare, equal pay, flexible working hours; and participation in decision-making. Considering all these factors, India ranks lowest. This result can be attributed to the low educational and social status of women in the country.
A modern way to achieve gender equality would be through digital technologies. Digital technologies can reduce the gender gap by increasing access to social services, financial services, identification and information. Women have easier access to grants and loans if they try to secure them through digital transfer, as they can avoid social norms that can act as barriers, such as the attitude shared by many households that the man should be in control woman’s finances. Avoiding this empowers women financially.
Identification is also a way to achieve more independence such as having a government-recognized document that allows a woman to access financial services, fight for her legal rights and claim mandates promised by the government for their children or themselves .
Social media can also be a tool to improve human rights through technology. Many social movements such as Me too, HeForShe and the like, have had significant and far-reaching effects on all. Cyber-feminsit forums are able to mobilize people around the world using various digital platforms to address intersectional, complex and diverse feminist agendas that shed light on the plight of women and ingenious ways to address and resolve systemic biases , related to gender.
Digital activism has its advantages such as speed, cheapness and breaking down barricades and increasing access to powerful and influential individuals. However, promoting free speech often comes with unwanted hate speech, such as biased, divisive language, victim-blaming, and more.
Having equality between men and women in STEM-based fields would benefit everyone. As per European Institute for Gender Equality, reducing the gender gap that exists in STEM will increase employment by 850,000 in the EU by 2050. Study by International Monetary Fund found that women bring new skills to the workplace; which not only increases economic benefits for all, but also raises men’s wages.
Read also: Mansplaining in classrooms: the systematic coercion of women into silence and self-doubt
Featured Image Source: Hindustan Times