18 March, 2021, Hiroshima, Japan - While International Women’s Day has grown to embrace the breadth and scope of women’s political, cultural and socioeconomic achievements, its origins date back to the labour movements of the early 20th century. First declared a national holiday in 1917 Russia, it wasn’t until 1977 that 8 March was formally adopted by the United Nations, launching the global celebration we know today. In that time, the role of women in the workplace has grown exponentially. But after more than 100 years, challenges remain.
Gender equality and the empowerment of women is a key component of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). While it is addressed specifically through SDG5, gender issues cut across the other 16 goals. Yet, progress has been slow in many sectors, including in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). According to UN Women, only 30 per cent of researchers worldwide are women, and only 35 per cent of all students enrolled in STEM-related fields of study are women. Recent studies have also found that women in STEM fields publish less, are paid less for their research, and do not progress as far as men in their careers. STEM fields are a foundation to shaping our future: with digitization and science playing key roles in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring gender equality in STEM has never been more vital.
Against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), in partnership with the International Federation of Engineering Education Societies (IFEES) and the Global Engineering Deans Council (GEDC), honoured women scientists, doctors, and researchers and other women working in STEM with a day-long conference, Women in STEM in the Time of the Pandemic – Facing Challenges, Finding Resilience.
More than 250 people from 55 countries joined leaders from the public, private, INGO communities for a day-long discussion on the challenges and opportunities women in STEM are facing, particularly as a result of the pandemic. Divided into six segments, four of which were regionally focused, the conference explored how the pandemic has affected gender equality and women’s empowerment in both positive and negative ways. The diverse backgrounds of the attendees – women, men, seniors and youth – offered a panoply of insights and perspectives that will help shape the future of this critical field.