Thank you so very much to the SRC, your Executive and Coordinator Kavelle Hylton for the invitation to join your Conversations in Science Series.
On this International Day of Women and Girls in Science, I am particularly pleased to be celebrating with you and adding my voice in recognizing the resilience of women in science.
First, I have the privilege of relaying an excerpt of the official message of the United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres on this occasion.
Secretary Guterres shares:
Advancing gender equality in science and technology is essential for building a better future. We have seen this yet again in the fight against COVID‑19. Women, who represent 70 per cent of all health-care workers, have been among those most affected by the pandemic and among those leading the response to it.
Many women scientists are facing closed labs and increased home care responsibilities, leaving less time for critical research. For women in scientific fields, these challenges have exacerbated an already difficult situation.
According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), women account for only one-third of the world’s researchers and occupy fewer senior positions than men at top universities. This disparity has led to a lower publication rate, less visibility, less recognition, and critically, less funding.
Women and girls belong in science. Yet, stereotypes have steered women and girls away from science-related fields. It is time to recognize that greater diversity fosters greater innovation. Without more women in STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics], the world will continue to be designed by men and for men, and the potential of girls and women will remain untapped.
We must ensure that girls have access to the education they deserve and that they can see a future for themselves in engineering, computer programming, cloud technology, robotics and health sciences. This is critical for our work to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
The Secretary General’s words are a powerful reminder brings of the desperate need for increased representation of women in science – beginning right here at home.
Just last year, Minister Williams highlighted that the number of women enrolled in STEM-related majors is still notably low. In 2015/2016 for example, women represented 10 per cent of those enrolled in engineering at the University of the West Indies. At the University of technology, for the same period, approximately 18 per cent were enrolled in engineering.
Additionally, and just last December, the ‘UNESCO Talks Webinar: Spotlight on Gender Equality and Artificial Intelligence in the Caribbean,’ brought to the fore the importance of gender equality considerations in the fields of artificial intelligence, informational communications technology and STEM, and their relevance for the Caribbean sub-region. It was noted by the experts, who participated, that problematic yet deeply-constructed social roles and gender norms about women limit the ambitions of girls and young women and acts as one of the biggest barriers to entering the world of business and technology.
It is clear then that we must begin to break down stereotypes and gender norms within our homes, schools, places of worship, businesses and governments. How we assign chores at home, must chance. At the secondary and tertiary education levels, these false gender notions still influence course selections. Science for boys and Literature for girls. Sounds familiar? We must do more with teachers and guidance counsellors to raise their awareness about gender-sensitive education. We also need gender-sensitive media to showcase strong women and girl role models in cartoons, films, and pop culture. We can also do better at highlighting the wonderful work of women in science – such as the esteemed panellists who will present today. These examples remind the world, especially little girls at home, that women and girls can succeed in any profession. We also need men allies. With the support of men, we can achieve generation equality goals much faster.
We must prioritize improved data infrastructure across the island. In Kington and St. Andrew there are more opportunities in science and information technology with better infrastructure, access to educational programs, and IT-related job opportunities. On the other hand, many rural girls and boys do not have equal access to computers, phones or adequate data connectivity to use for their education. STEM provides significant opportunities for social and economic mobility. But for technology to be a true enabler and driver for growth it must be accessible, and women and girls must not be left behind. Permit me to add that the Wifi in Towns programme of the Universal Service Fund is a laudable best practice, and its impact I hope will be measured and replicated.
In Jamaica, the United Nations, through UN Women has been working with the Urban Development Corporation to integrate technology into referral pathways and to upskill women and youth, who work in public spaces like craft markets, with IT skills. UNESCO and UN Women are also part of CARICOM’s “Girls in ICT Partnership.” The programme is working to accelerate action in gender advocacy to engage more girls in ICT.
I must commend the work of the Scientific Research Council for this and other initiatives seeking to expand the footprint of women in science. Science and gender equality are both vital for the achievement of Jamaica’s Vision 2030 as well as the internationally agreed Sustainable Development Goals. Your work is a critical part of this Agenda.
To this end, it is incumbent on us to ensure that women’s participation in science is not the exception but becomes the norm. I use this opportunity to reaffirm the commitment of the United Nations to continue our support to you - the people and government of Jamaica - with the hope that our partnership takes us several steps closer to the goal post of gender equality in science and indeed every sphere.
As prepared for delivery, with differences in the live presentation