To read the first article of the two-part series, click here.
It is not untrue to claim that gender equality and education together form the bedrock on which sustainable development is based. It is also a fact that merely raising literacy rates or attaining equality do not solve issues in their entirety. That said, alleviating poverty, improving women’s as well as collective health and countering the effects of climate change and many more still depend heavily on this very premise.
According to the Paper commissioned for the Global Education Monitoring Report 2016, Education for people and planet: Creating sustainable futures for all: “Education is only one of the areas of social policy behind the breaking down of gender inequalities and the empowerment of women – progress in education alone is not sufficient for achieving gender equality either in or beyond education… Nonetheless, it is a fundamental building block for both individual capabilities, and collective changes in understandings and norms.”
Specifically speaking, it is also essential to realize and consistently reiterate the importance of inclusive participation of women in STEM for not only gender advancement, but also to empower societies and nations at large. Working on the agenda of promoting STEM education for Women, UNESCO believes: “By working towards these goals and harnessing women’s full potential in STEM fields, countries will reach higher levels of development, increase their research output and build capacity, thereby reducing inequalities and knowledge gaps. This, in turn, will enable countries to achieve many other STI-based (Science, Technology and Innovation) SDG (UN Sustainable Development Goals) targets.”
Aligning our vision with UN Sustainable Development Goals, on April 25th, 2017, Ananke launched its groundbreaking digital Internship program mainstreaming Gender and Sustainability. We continue our informal discussions with women trailblazers about their personal journey’s and views on women’s economic empowerment through STEM to achieve sustainability.
Hailing from Nigeria, Dr. Mina Ogbanga’s was enrolled in the College of Medical Sciences when she used to dream of transforming her home country for good. In addition to being a social scientist with a PhD degree in Sustainable Development Studies and another ongoing PhD in Public Policy; Dr. Mina has research and technical interest in Renewable Energy. She has an incredibly immense track record in STEM, with specialization in clean energy. Creating an innovative biofuel gel for domestic cooking initiative, the eminent trailblazer believes that clean energy for rural women is a healthier, cheaper and safer option. Her initiative aims to offer access to clean cooking for thousands of African women and reduce deforestation as the product lessens the use of firewood. Dr. Mina has won numerous awards and accolades from local, regional and international institutions including University of Cambridge, UK. She staunchly believes that STEM can open more doors to a better world for everyone
Talking about her journey, Dr. Mina says: “I am passionate about STEM and right from High School have been involved in innovative initiatives that project the importance of STEM. Being a social scientist, I will keep on supporting innovative, technology-driven initiatives across my home country. I truly believe innovation is the tool to achieve technological transformation in the world. We can empower women by continuously training them; building their capacities and exposing them to current scientific innovations for growth and sustainability.”
Dr. Mina Ogbanga
PhD degree in Sustainable Development Studies
I’ve always been interested in STEM right from the beginning. I remember taking up Physics, Chemistry, Maths and Computers in high school and excelled at it. I have always been attracted to science and in graduate school went out to get a Ph.D. in Economics, which has a heavy focus on Maths. I love the fact that STEM subjects have such a direct impact and use in our day-to-day life. That’s what makes them even more interesting to me personally.
While I had taken STEM courses since high school in India, I actually heard the word ‘STEM’ when I moved to the US for higher education. Growing up, not very many people used the word STEM in India. We always referred to it as Science – Physics, Chemistry, Maths and Computers.
I now work as a social entrepreneur and gender equality activist. I founded my own organization Sayfty to educate and empower young women and girls against all forms of violence.
Importance of women’s inclusion in STEM
I believe STEM subjects should be made mandatory in schools up to a certain level. Girls should be encouraged to take up these subjects and this stereotyping that STEM is primarily for boys, should be put to an end too. In this day and age when computers and science is such an integral part of our daily lives, it is imperative that everyone has a basic understanding of how things work and operate. Let’s get rid of this myth that STEM is not suitable for girls. Let’s encourage all genders to actively be a part of STEM courses and create an environment of growth and learning for all.
It is important to break the barrier of entry for girls in STEM. Make it popular and mainstream it for them. Let’s do away with the brouhaha surrounding STEM subjects. Focus on positive examples of girls in STEM, talk about it more and let’s as parents and educators encourage young girls in STEM.
Ending Gender Stereotyping.
Companies, school, universities should encourage more girls to take up STEM fields by creating skills labs and workshops, which makes learning more fun.
Create more roles suited for women and girls in STEM. Try to have gender diversity in your company when hiring.
Media can share positive examples of women and girls in STEM and what they have accomplished.
Men and boys should help break the gender stereotyping by raising awareness & contributing to the conversation of bringing in girls in STEM.
Women in STEM should create leadership/mentoring programs to encourage younger girls to take up STEM and lead by example.
Dr. Shruti Kapoor
What made you get into STEM ?
I always wanted to learn more about technology and computers. I was always curious about these subjects and wanting to learn more on how to use technology to connect to the world. That’s how I got into Computer Engineering and learned both hardware and software aspects of computer and coding. That’s when I developed interest in database and began learning software languages.
Where did you first hear about STEM?
I remember when I was in 7th Grade, there was a new computer lab setup in my school in India. My first introduction to computer was without a mouse and paint in Windows. Gradually, the ‘Mouse’ was introduced and I was amazed at how by moving the mouse, the cursor was moving as well. This made me curious to learn more.
What is your current job ?
My current job is at an International Bank, in fact one of the top five in the US. I work as a Business/Quality Analyst for Corporate Wholesale Banking Products. My role involves working on a combination of technology and banking together.
I am also an international advisor and a member of advisory committee board member of two NGO’s – India and Africa.
I am also the founder of Superwoman Next Door, where I encourage every next door girl to pursue their dreams and break all stereotypes. I feature unsung sheroes to regular next-door girl, possessing incredible superpowers ranging from being a super mommy to a Super Sportswoman. Therefore, encouraging every girl to be her own Superwoman.
Additionally, I am currently drafting New York City for CEDAW bill, which is Women’s Rights of Bill for NYC and have the privilege of being on their public relations committee.
I am a member of the Interagency Youth Network Working Group at UN Women as well. All these because of one bridge – Technology.
Your views on STEM?
There are still less than 17 percent of girls who graduate with STEM degree. Somehow, girls are discouraged to take STEM subjects because of the stereotype that girls can only study Arts. When I decided to choose STEM subjects, I was discouraged as well because it was assumed that girls couldn’t graduate in such ‘difficult’ subjects. But, my mom stood by my side and encouraged me not to give up and break these stereotypes. That encouragement led me to excel and graduate with flying colors. I also bagged a job at a Fortune 500 company and working since last nine years with multiple multinational companies.
What needs to be done to empower women via STEM?
Times have changed and in 2017, STEM is offers solutions to many problems. We live in a digitized world that provides countless ways of empowering women through technology like apps, the Internet, Skype and sharing videos etc. For example, through a platform called World Pulse, I could connect to women from 190 countries and talk to them about everyday life. These women may not have been hi-tech, but all of them knew how to use a computer and that enabled them to share their stories. Gradually all these women connected and motivated each other, providing solutions and resources. Growing together globally, these women are now leaders and changemakers in their respective communities. I mentor young girls in India and Africa through Skype and emails because technology have bridged the distance between continents. The biggest challenges that still exists are many :
1) Millions of girls are still not going to school because of poverty or their brothers are given a preference over their education.
2) Child marriage is a big obstacle that hinders a girl’s education.
3) There is still electricity and Internet issues in many countries therefore even if they have a computer because of these challenges they still remain disconnected with the world.
In order to empower women through STEM , we need to:
1) Encourage more girls to learn computers.
2) Ensure that there is no pay gap for women and girls in the STEM fields in order to encourage them.
3) Have town hall meetings/parent meetings to enlighten and encourage them to further encourage their daughters to take STEM subjects.
4) Ask Governments to provide electricity and Internet at lower costs to make it affordable for girls to connect easily. Also, governments should encourage scholarships for girls who take STEM Fields.
5) Last but not the least real life role models/ women in STEM should talk more often to girls in panels/sessions to encourage and inspire them to take STEM subjects instead of being overwhelmed by them.
Be Your Own Superwoman
On how it all began
Being a Pakistani girl, it is very common to hear parents wanting their daughters and sons to either choose medicine or engineering as professions.
This was one of the main reasons that made me chose the field of science; smashing down barriers that force and pressurize students to become either a doctor or an engineer.
I had always excelled in school, receiving numerous accolades and distinction. As it happens, I too had opted for medicine but my world came crashing down when I did not qualify. Everything seemed hopeless for I felt that I had somehow failed to fulfill my parents’ life-long wishes of me becoming a lady doctor. But it was because of my parents’ encouragement that I decided to take up Biotechnology. In that moment of truth, I realized that Allah Almighty had bigger and better things in store for me.
I continued Biotechnology with passion and determination. I have always had a strong connection to STEM studies ever since my school days. In addition to my regular graduation studies and internships, I kept doing research even after my university classes. I graduated with good grades and started my Post-Graduation, MPhil in Molecular Biology. I have dreamt and continuously strive to make a difference in the world and set an example. With high aims and ambitions, I am pursuing my studies in STEM field.
Women in STEM
My work in STEM and the social work I do are proof that women in STEM fields are no less than anyone. Age doesn’t count but your work, aims, passion & spirits do! Women have the power to fight all types of biases and stereotype in this world. But in order to do so, they need to be empowered in STEM fields and this can be done by highlighting the extensive body of works by women in STEM.
Additionally, it is crucial to provide them with better opportunities, guidance, and exposure to latest advancements in the said fields as well as connect them with the right people. Women in STEM, especially those just entering the fields should be attend as well as participate in symposiums and practical work. Large corporations, government entities and other platforms need to be involved to facilitate women; also offering them opportunities through scholarships, grants, funds etc.
I believe in gender equality. Everyone has a right to have a go at his or her career. Let us cross the barrier that discriminates women especially in STEM. Be a role model, set standards for girls in STEM fields and empower them to be a vocal supporter of STEM.
Biotechnologist, Molecular Biologist