Today, for the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we celebrate the progress made towards reducing the gender gap in computer science, and we urge schools worldwide to help balance the scales in this critical 21st century subject.
Growing up in Pakistan, I often wondered why boys were expected to become doctors or engineers while girls, including me, were encouraged to pursue teaching or home economics. So, when my cousin Sana became the first woman in my family to start a career in engineering, she also became my idol. But a few months later, my excitement soured when Sana quit her job halfway through her first pregnancy. Sana’s story, however, is not unique. Traditional gender roles and lack of access to formal childcare often play a critical role in many women’s decisions to forgo STEM careers.
Poor math and science scores in Sub-Saharan African schools – particularly in school-leaving exams – has long plagued educationists and policy makers. As my colleague, Waly Wane, pointed out in a recent post, failures to improve learning outcomes in these subjects raise doubts as to whether African education policies can ever deliver the scientists and engineers the continent needs to do better socio-economically.
April 7th is an Armenian national holiday celebrating motherhood and beauty. And it may not surprise you that, since it comes one short month after International Women’s Day, we tend to combine the two events into a 30-day celebration of opportunity.
We get a lot of oversees movies here in Armenia – conveniently located at geographic and cultural crossroads – so l discovered a charming film called Hidden Figures which has captured a lot of interest in this very scientifically-minded country. It is an inspiring story with a lesson that translates easily here – that if all Armenian students and workers are empowered with skills, opportunity, and family and community support, they too could reach for the stars!
Although countries have dramatically closed gender gaps in education and labor force participation, gender differences within education and employment persist. Women earn less income and work in lower paying occupations and sectors than men do. Women are less likely to become entrepreneurs, and, when they do, they typically run smaller, less-profitable firms. These gender gaps in entrepreneurship, incomes, and productivity persist at all levels of development, despite a multitude of policies aimed at eliminating them. And as countries move forward with closing glaring gender differences, other gaps become visible.
This year’s International Women’s Day “Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030” places great emphasis on equality and economic empowerment. When countries give women greater opportunities to participate in the economy, the benefits extend far beyond individual girls and women but also to societies and economies as a whole. A recent study shows that raising labor participation of women at par with men can increase GDP in the United States by 5 percent, in the UAE by 12 percent and in Egypt by 34 percent.
Depending on to whom you listen, automation, robotics, and artificial intelligence (AI) will either solve all our problems or end the human race. Sometime in the near future, machine intelligence is predicted to surpass human intelligence, a point in time known as “the singularity.” Whether the rise of the machines is an existential threat to mankind or not, I believe that there is a more mundane issue: robots are currently being used to automate production.
Dubbed the ‘fourth industrial revolution’, technology disruption could be a key growth driver for economies over the coming years. But for women, advances in technology also pose a threat, as many of their jobs could be displaced. A perfect storm of technological trends, from mobile internet and cloud technology to ‘big data’ and the ‘internet of things’, means that, as new work trends evolve, existing gender inequalities could worsen further.
We recently met Mariana Costa from Laboratoria – a nonprofit that empowers young women by providing them access to the digital sector. In the next three years Laboratoria will train more than 10,000 young women as coders. This tech social enterprise located in Peru, Mexico and Chile, helps young women - who have not previously had access to quality education – enroll in an immersive five-month training program at Laboratoria’s Code Academy, where students achieve an intermediate level on the most common web development languages and tools. Their technical development is complemented with a personal development program that helps them build the soft skills needed to perform well at work. Successful graduates also receive mentoring and job placement and are usually able to pay-back the cost of the course during their first two years of employment. Most of the time, these young girls are the only breadwinners in their households.
Happy UN Day for South –South Cooperation!
Investment in skills is vital to economic growth and competitiveness and poverty reduction. I believe that there is no better way to do that than to educate young graduates with expertise in high-demand areas to help grow African economies, create jobs, and support research.