UNESCO issues warning ahead of International Day of Women and Girls in Science
Ahead of Saturday's International Day of Women and Girls in Science, UNESCO have issued a warning to STEM advocates that the number of women in computer science has dropped globally.
In 2015, the United Nations General Assembly declared February 11th International Day of Women and Girls in Science - and launched its UNESCO Science Report: towards 2030 to highlight the imbalance between men and women working in STEM positions.
Whereas women have achieved equality in life sciences in many countries - with new figures showing that six out of 10 researchers are women in both medical and agricultural sciences in countries such as Belarus and New Zealand - they still trail men in engineering and computer sciences.
An analysis of computer science shows a steady decrease in female graduates since 2000 that is particularly marked in high-income countries.
Between 2000 and 2012, the share of women graduates in computer science slipped in Australia, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea and the USA.
The situation in Latin America and the Caribbean is also of some concern to UNESCO.
In all countries reporting data, the share of women graduates in computer science has dropped by between 2 and 13 percentage points since 2000.
Although some European countries reported a slight increase of figures, with the percentage of female computer science graduates increasing from 10% to 17%, these are still worryingly low levels.
In a statement, UNESCO said: "This should be a wake-up call. Female participation is falling in a field that is expanding globally as its importance for national economies grows, penetrating every aspect of daily life."
According to the organisation, despite the fact that just over half of all of the world’s bachelor’s and master’s graduates and 43% of PhDs are women, only 28% are researchers.
Ireland currently has a female researcher percentage of 32%, which is in line with the EU average.
Women are still consistently underrepresented in engineering, with the largest gaps seen in countries like Japan and South Korea - where only 5% and 10% of its engineers are women.
In the developing world however, good news emerges in Malaysia and Oman - as the figure is an astonishing 50% and 53% respectively.
Of the seven Arab countries reporting data, four observe a steady percentage or an increase.
Reasons for this increase may be explained by looking at the United Arab Emirates, whose government has made it their priority to develop a knowledge economy and implement policies encouraging Emirati women in particular to pursue a STEM career.
Director-general of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, has said that the report results "throw a shadow" over efforts to reach the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
“Girls continue to face stereotypes and social and cultural restrictions, limiting access to education and funding for research, preventing them from scientific careers and reaching their full potential,” she said in a recent message to the UN.
“Women remain a minority in science research and decision-making. Meaningful progress must start with the rights and dignity of women, by nurturing their ingenuity and innovation.”
International Day of Women and Girls in Science aims to raise awareness of the fact that girls continue to face stereotypes and social and cultural restrictions, limiting access to education and funding for research, preventing them from scientific careers and reaching their full potential.
Ms Bokova also stressed that "humanity cannot afford to ignore half of its creative genius."
To find out more about the current initiatives to increase the number of women in STEM worldwide, visit www.unesco.org