International Day of Women and Girls in Science
Today marks the 7th year of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, first declared by the United Nations in 2015 in order to promote full and equal access and participation for women and girls in science.
Over the past decade, the global community has been making conscious efforts to inspire women and girls all around the world. This awareness day is an opportunity to celebrate the essential role that women and girls play in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths).
Why is this day important?
This day is a reminder of the accomplishments of women and girls in STEM careers. It gives us the chance to raise awareness and promote gender equality.
The gender gap continues to be an issue today and we are still a big stretch away from gender equality. There has been a significant difference in the gender pay gap throughout the years at all levels of STEM disciplines across the world. According to the United Nations, women are typically given smaller research grants than male colleagues and, while they represent 33.3% of all research, only 12% of members of national science academies are women.
According to UNESCO data, there are less than 30% of women researchers worldwide. Enrolment of female students for STEM studies is particularly low in ICT with 3%; natural science, mathematics and statistics with 5% and in engineering, manufacturing and construction 8%.
With figures still so low, this day is crucial for shouting out about our women in STEM role models, as one individual could inspire the next generation.
What is the theme this year?
The official theme this year is “Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion: Water Unites Us”. According to the UN, billions of people around the world will be unable to access safely managed household drinking water and hygiene services in 2030 due to climate change, rising demand and failure to conserve water resources.
On 11 February, there will be a virtual event held by the UN that will bring together women and girls in science and experts around the world who will play a vital role in developing a sustainable water-energy nexus and progress towards the achievement of SDG 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation).
Important figures at the college
To gain an insight into the world of STEM, we caught up with the Head of Academic Studies at Leeds Sixth Form College, Dr. Elisabeth Protopapa, who has 22 years of experience in science.
From creating a mini-lab in her childhood bedroom to achieving a PhD in chemistry, Elisabeth has a clear passion for science and encourages girls and women everywhere to get into STEM subjects and make that change.
What do you do during the day that is STEM-related?
“Although in the past I taught GCSE science and chemistry A level, my management role means I do not have a direct link to delivering day-to-day STEM lessons anymore. However, as a leader in education, I regularly use the skills I developed through my STEM background; organisation, large data manipulation, decision making, planning and problem-solving.”
How did you get into STEM?
“When I was at school in Greece, we did not have any labs to do practicals in science. All the practicals were described as ‘thought experiments’ in books.
“When learning about ‘osmosis’ in year 10, I was puzzled by what the thought experiment presented and I questioned my teacher about the validity of that page in the book. He gave me the suggestion to go and try this at home by placing a raisin in water. I was hooked after that! I created a mini-lab in my room using anything I could use around my house. I was fascinated by the physical changes and really wanted to know why this was happening.
“This inspired me to study a degree in chemistry, which I found to be the most logical subject in comparison to other STEM subjects. At university, the practical investigations were the highlight of my week and led me to continue into scientific research by doing a masters and a PhD. My supervisor was a woman and she was an amazing role model.”
Why do you think it’s important for more women to get into STEM?
“I believe women have an inbuilt moral compass to create in order to benefit others. We are multitaskers but always have empathy. As a result, any success benefits the people around us.”
Have you got any advice for girls wanting to pursue a career in STEM?
“STEM subjects help you understand the world around you and this is very powerful. Positive changes can be made from raising awareness which will have a great impact on the following generations. Get involved, be brave, be that change and voice.”
What do you enjoy most about working in STEM?
“STEM means continuous growth. My STEM background means my strengths are in organisation, problem-solving and thinking innovatively to find imaginative solutions. I aim to improve the students’ opportunities and maximise their potential.”
What does a lesson or unit look like when STEM is infused?
“There is a question that needs solving! For example, how do you light up a room when it is dark and you have no electricity? Look up the Liter of Light project and see how science can bring an impact on everyday life. These are all the questions we hope to enthuse our students with at Leeds Sixth Form College.”
UNESCO has put together a global exhibition of artwork and stories contributed by women with STEM backgrounds.
The Gender Action Plan III sets out the European Union’s political and operational roadmap towards a gender-equal world. Take a look at the plan here.
Help make a change and take the next step by joining the global network of Women in Science 4 SDGs here.
Want to be the catalyst for change? Take a look at our STEM subjects here.