Interview: Girls’ and women’s engagement in STEM education and careers in Latin America

11/02/2020

While more girls are in school today, they do not always have equal opportunities to complete and benefit from an education of their choice. Biases, social norms and expectations influence the quality of the education they receive and the subjects they study, especially when it comes to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.

Globally, only 35% of STEM students in higher education are women and only 3% of women in higher education choose information and communication technologies (ICT) studies, according to UNESCO’s global report Cracking the code: Girls’ and women’s education in STEM.

This Q&A was conducted with Gloria Bonder, coordinator of the UNESCO Regional Chair on Women, Science and Technology in Latin America, in advance of the International Day for Girls and Women in Science.

What is the current landscape of gender equality in science, technology and innovation (STI) fields in the Latin American region?

In Latin America, 45% of the region’s researchers are women, a number far exceeding the global rate of 28%. Research in STIs has expanded, and most recently the drafting and implementation of policies and regulations in universities and research centres aimed at preventing gender-based discrimination and/or violence is also underway.

In addition, several NGOs and networks of women scientists and technologists from the region are raising the visibility of gender inequalities in STI by reviving the contributions of forgotten women scientists. These initiatives have encouraged institutions to develop gender-disaggregated data – key information to define and promote changes in institutional policies.

How can we concretely engage girls in science-related fields of studies and careers globally?

The curricula needs to be revisited to challenge gender bias. Innovative coeducational practices should be implemented to foster curiosity, collaboration, critical thinking and experimentation.

Working with teachers is key. Gender-sensitive STEM education should be integrated into teachers’ initial training and continuing education programmes at all levels. Teachers also need to benefit from support such as tutoring or mentoring to guide them through a process of re-evaluation of their knowledge, biases, attitudes and competencies for teaching STI.

It is also important to work on transforming the attitudes, beliefs and culture around the STI environment through awareness-raising and more research.

How do you think innovation can foster an inclusive environment in which more girls and women engage in STI studies?

Innovation in and of itself may not guarantee an increase in the motivation or the engagement of more girls and women in STI fields. However, the design, contents and the way innovations are used can have a powerful role in promoting gender equality, leading more girls and women to engage in STI studies and careers.

We need to innovate STI to ensure inclusive, equitable and diverse environments. For example, new generations are going through unprecedented changes in their cognitive, emotional and social development, stimulated by their active participation in digital environments. This means that educational institutions should creatively integrate the use of ICTs into learning processes, while ensuring equal participation of all genders in all activities and roles.

It is also important to identify and challenge gender stereotypes and biases that often permeate technological innovations, both in their design and in their functions and contents.

What would you like to tell girls around the world?

STI have been, for many years, masculine-driven domains that excluded or undervalued women´s contributions and talents. Today, more girls are discovering the beauty of sciences and technology, and its power to improve the wellbeing of our societies.

It is your right to choose what you want to study and how you want to develop your career and lead your life. But this means also an important challenge: do not to adapt to "the way things are". Be attentive to gender stereotypes and overt and subtle discriminatory social practices. Build networks with your colleagues and contribute to changing the status quo.