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Sustainable Development Goals and Achieving Gender Equality

During International Science Center and Science Museum Day (ISCSMD) on November 10, a new Girls: STEM-SDG Marathon will highlight how women and girls are using science to help achieve the world’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Over the course of the day—across 30 global time zones—the marathon will showcase interviews with these amazing people who are working to make the world a better place . . . with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

Dimensions spoke with Jennifer Breslin of Futuristas—an experiential design organization focusing on science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM) projects—about

  • the upcoming Marathon, which Futuristas is helping to create
    the role of women in achieving the SDGS
  • how Goal 5 (Gender Equality) contributes to achieving all the other SDGs
  • why the role of women in the SDGs needs a spotlight
  • how STEM education fits into achieving the SDGs
  • how UN Women, Futuristas, and others building ecosystems of support

She is director of Futuristas, which is the co-lead (with UN Women) of the UN Youth Development Gender Working Group STEM Task Force. She is also the former lead of technology and innovation at UN Women.

 

Why do you feel it is important for your organization to participate in International Science Center and Science Museum Day?

Science and technology centers represent key opportunities for informal, hands-on learning around science and technology. They communicate not only the fundamentals of STEM, but also how STEM connects to the everyday and real world. This makes STEM more relatable and inspiring and makes the ever-important connection between science and society.

Moreover, science and technology centers can engage both young people and their families and community. These intergenerational and broader links are especially critical in ensuring girls are supported in pursuing STEM learning and careers and that boys and men see a natural role for girls and women in these sectors.

Breaking down stereotypes around girls and women in STEM is essential. and science and technology centers are also well placed to do just this.

Why do you feel it is important for your organization to participate in International Science Center and Science Museum Day?

Science and technology centers represent key opportunities for informal, hands-on learning around science and technology. They communicate not only the fundamentals of STEM, but also how STEM connects to the everyday and real world. This makes STEM more relatable and inspiring and makes the ever-important connection between science and society.

Moreover, science and technology centers can engage both young people and their families and community. These intergenerational and broader links are especially critical in ensuring girls are supported in pursuing STEM learning and careers and that boys and men see a natural role for girls and women in these sectors. Breaking down stereotypes around girls and women in STEM is essential. and science and technology centers are also well placed to do just this.

ISCSMD and the Women and Girls in Science Global Marathon are opportunities to highlight the important role of women and girls in STEM, to celebrate the work that is being done within ASTC’s membership to encourage girls and women in STEM, and to build momentum for acceleration of this work and stronger partnerships in this critical area.

Why is it important to highlight the role of women in addressing the world’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?

Women are not only half the world’s population but are also often disproportionately affected by many of the global challenges we face. This positions them with a unique set of experiences, needs, and perspectives that must be recognized and addressed as we seek to realize a more just and sustainable future. Women—both young and old—are sources of knowledge, expertise, and solutions that must also be better supported and tapped.

STEM underlies each and every one of the SDGs—from the use of digital technology for political engagement, to meeting health and environmental challenges, to economic empowerment, to modeling forms of international collaboration. Currently, women are significantly underrepresented in STEM in both private and public sectors, including in STEM education, professions, enterprise, and policymaking, and from entry level through to leadership positions. Therefore, we are missing a set of critical priorities, a broad pool of talent, and the greater success and innovation that diversity brings. This is untenable and deprives both women and society of tremendous gains and, until remedied, will hinder achievement of the SDGs.

How does Goal 5 (Gender Equality) contribute to achieving the other SDGs?

The SDGs are interlinked and indivisible with a broader goal of achieving peaceful, just, and inclusive societies. Women’s empowerment and gender equality are essential to achieving all of Agenda 2030. This is reinforced by the fact that issues and targets around gender equality are reflected throughout the agenda in addition to there being a specific goal—Goal 5—on gender equality.

Goal 5 specifically speaks to the transformation of unequal power relations between women and men and underlying structural issues around gender equality. It commits to action around violence against women, all forms of discrimination, harmful practices, social and economic policies, women’s leadership, SHR, and overall national strategies on gender equality. However, Goal 5 also supports realization of the other goals, all of which have a gender dimension. Girls and women have differentiated experiences when it comes to all of the SDGs and this lens needs to inform their implementation.

It is also worth noting that the goal on gender includes a target (5b) on women’s use of enabling technology, including ICTs, as a means of implementing the goal. This also reinforces the direct link between women, science, and technology for achieving all the SDGs.

Take the issue of energy—Goal 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy)—as an example. UN Women notes that women disproportionately bear the burden of energy poverty in that when modern energy sources are not available women spend hours each day collecting fuel to cook and heat their homes. This affects 2.9 billion homes globally. The result is that women and girls are not engaged in school, other income earning activities, or even leisure. Moreover, they also face significant health and safety risks from household air pollution and carrying heavy loads. At the same time, women’s position in the formal energy sector where solutions and policy are being developed is at 20%, with women in leadership positions even lower. There is a significant disconnect that speaks to the need to address the structural issues in Goal 5, gender specific policies and actions taken under Goal 7, as well as broader issues around girls and women in STEM.

Goal 9 (Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure) also supports the other goals. Target 9.C speaks to access to information and communication technology and the internet by 2020. The ability of women to access and participate in the digital revolution has implications for their ability to contribute to and benefit from political engagement, health care, education, economic empowerment, and almost all spheres of public and private life, which increasingly have a digital component, e.g., access to information, services, and other opportunities, and in voice and mobilization. The commitment under Goal 5b to advance women’s use of ICTs directs attention to necessary investments in ensuring that there are more girls and women in the ICT sector, as well as policy and applications being developed that speak to women’s needs and issues of gender equality. An equitable 21st century infrastructure and related services will require acceleration of women’s digital equality. At present, women make up a low percentage of women in technical positions in the ICT sector at around 20% globally and, for example, the EU has noted that only 9% of apps in the region are developed by women.

What role does STEM education play in achieving the SDGs?

Ensuring that more women are fully engaged in application of STEM for achieving the SDGs requires an ecosystem approach. There are many actors dedicated to ensuring that girls and women are successful in STEM, spanning from early learning through higher education, to more equitable and gender responsive work places and R&D, to government policies and investments. Within this ecosystem, however, the role of education is paramount. This includes both formal and, critically, informal education.

The SDGs specifically speak to gender equality in all aspects and levels of education (Goal 4, Quality Education), including in some STEM-related areas (math, ICT, sustainability, technical training). We must equip the next generation of girls and boys with the foundations, tools, and understanding to pursue STEM that will support achievement of the SDGs. There are currently large gaps globally in girls’ access to formal and informal quality education and particularly STEM education. The informal STEM learning space, such as that offered by ASTC’s members, can serve as a complement for girls and young women when there are gaps in formal education. It also has a nimble ability to recalibrate and build learning content and opportunities that better speak to girls and young women and their learning interests and needs.

For example, research shows that often young women are more attracted to STEM when it is purpose driven, connected to real life, and experiential. It is here in particular that science and technology centers can play an important role as they often are tackling issues embodied in Agenda 2030. The Marathon is an opportunity to help to highlight some of the existing good practices on engagement of girls and young women that can be replicated within other centers. However, though broader partnerships, it will also be important to continue to expand these opportunities to girls within communities where such centers don’t exist, as well as to integrate the content and lessons from the informal space into formal education including with teacher networks.

How is UN Women working to address the SDGs?

Achieving the SDGs is at the core of UN Women’s mission and it plays a central role in monitoring and reporting around Goal 5. UN Women works through three primary channels

  • supporting governments and other stakeholders at the national level in implementation of the goals through operational programmes
  • advocacy around normative frameworks and policy, including the annual Commission on the Status of Women
  • coordination work within the UN system.

UN Women tackles issues of women in STEM primarily through its economic empowerment work, including through global partnerships on ICT; through 21st century and digital literacy skill development, promoting women in non-traditional sectors (such as STEM) for decent work; and around applications such as energy, agriculture, and rural development. Global initiatives include partnerships with

  • UNOOSA to promote women in the space sector
  • UNESCO and WIPO to examine the relationship between gender equality and STEM through future foresight methodologies for policy making
  • UNESCO to promote Women in Science Day
  • ITU under the Equals initiative to promote equality in the digital age

UN Women also works with civil society partners like the Web Foundation where it supported the development of a Gender Digital Scorecard for national policy makers. Under its innovation work, UN Women works to advance women as innovators through private sector partnerships.

Most recently UN Women has established a task force on Youth and STEM as part of the UN Inter-agency Network on Youth Development’s Working Group on Youth and Gender Equality, which will engage civil society and other partners that work with young women led or focused groups to increase the voice of young women and their leadership around STEM policy and strategies, to build their STEM related learning opportunities and skills development, and to position young women as creators of STEM based SDG solutions.

For more information on what UN Women does, click here.

How is Futuristas working in support of the SDGs?

Futuristas is part of the movement to change the way STEAM is perceived, experienced, and directed. This includes how STEAM links to a better society and realization of the SDGs. Its particular focus is on demonstrating how STEAM can help youth realize their passions and goals, no matter where they lie. Futuristas seeks to make a difference by

1) Mainstreaming STEAM experiential learning and application where youth are already engaged and around their areas of interest (from social justice, to arts, to the environment, to sport and all range of subjects)
2) Connecting this broader pool of STEAM engaged youth to more advanced skill providers, e.g., coding and engineering organizations
3) Equipping youth with skills to understand, analyze, and build a preferred future through a STEAM lens by utilizing tools such as foresight/future and systems thinking, ethics, as well change-making and communication.

This mission is undertaken through collaboration with a range of partners including educational institutions, community organizations and clubs, industries, advocacy organizations, and many other sectors.

In line with Goal 5, Futuristas has a strong and dedicated focus on girls and young women and also works with partners, including the UN system, in promoting a broader STEAM ecosystem that supports gender equality. Futuristas is a co-lead, alongside UN Women, of the UN Inter-agency Network on Youth Development’s Working Group on Youth and Gender Equality’s STEM Task Force.