How women in science are fighting inequality

I’m sure we’d all agree that access to education is important. Whether you left school at 16 or you’re studying towards a PhD, learning never stops. But have you ever reflected on why education is so important? And why there is still such gender inequality in education and research worldwide?

A different class

A quality education helps develop our social, emotional, cognitive, and communication skills. We expand our knowledge of the world, develop problem solving skills, and learn to read and write. Time with educators and peers is a powerful force for change in our lives.

Education is a key social and cultural right. Every child has the right to an education (Article 28; UN Convention, 1989). However, in some parts of the world this right is only a privilege for the few. Lack of trained teachers, makeshift classrooms, poor sanitation, hunger, sickness, and lack of finances make learning difficult for many children. The consequences are bleak. UNICEF estimates that 617 million children around the world are unable to reach minimum proficiency levels in reading and maths.

Poor or lacking education exacerbates poverty.

Good quality education helps fight poverty.

Knowing this is all well and good. Most NGOs, like Tearfund, work to improve access to education. However there is another key issue when it comes to education: gender inequality.

One of the biggest inequalities that perpetuates the cycle of poverty is gender. But we know that when gender inequality in the classroom is addressed, there is a ripple effect on the way women are treated in their communities. Educating girls has been shown to reduce rates of child marriage, improve wages and jobs for women, and empower them to become leaders in their community and beyond. However less than 40% of countries provide girls and boys with equal access to education (UNESCO, 2014).

Controlled conditions

Gender inequality in education is evident in low income countries, but is also seen in more economically developed countries. While it presents in different ways, this disparity is a problem across the globe.

Recently there has been a real focus on women (well to be exact, lack of women) in science. Did you know that less than 30% of the world’s researchers are women (UIS, 2018)? Men make up the majority of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths (STEM) university courses and occupations. I don’t wish to share these facts to induce feelings of rage towards males! Seeking equality should build everyone up and not tear down. But, I do wish to advocate for women’s rights on the grounds of equality. Gender stereotypes and sexist language are still an injustice in our modern world. In some countries, policy and law restricts what women can do and achieve. Many women feel unwelcome in the world of science which is predominantly male.

Here’s a quote from Professor Jocelyn Bell Burnell (a groundbreaking astrophysicist):  

‘The boys got sent to the science lab and the girls got sent to the domestic science room because everybody knew that girls were only going to get married so they needed to learn how to make beds.’

Women and girls should be able to dream of research, scientific advancement, and discoveries just like the guys. Likewise women and girls should have equal opportunities to lead in STEM. We all live on the same planet, look at the same stars, contribute to changes in our climate, and have a responsibility to care for creation. Now, arguably more than ever, we need innovative and skilled thinkers to combat climate change. Women and men who are curious and want to act.

Engineering change

Science and industry is rapidly changing. More and more women are applying to STEM courses. Revolutionary studies are being conducted by women who once would never be allowed near a lab, office, or lecture hall. Women in science are smashing glass ceilings, but we’ve still got a few more panes to crack before the gender gap is no more.

It’s time for what was achieved by women in history’s shadow to come out into the light.

It’s time we celebrate women and girls in science.

And it’s time we act on gender inequality in education.

Why don’t you take some time this week to pray for Tearfund and the work they are doing to alleviate poverty? Why don’t you chat to a woman you know who is working in science, how could you better champion them? Imagine what gender equality at all levels of education and research could do for our global family.

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