More girls are in school today than ever before, but they do not always have the same opportunities as boys to complete and benefit from an education of their choice. Too many girls and women are held back by biases, social norms and expectations influencing the quality of the education they receive and the subjects they study. They are particularly under-represented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education, and consequently in STEM careers.
According to the UNESCO groundbreaking report Cracking the code: Girls’ and women’s education in STEM, only 35% of STEM students in higher education globally are women, and differences are observed within STEM disciplines. For example, only 3% of female students in higher education choose information and communication technologies (ICT) studies. This gender disparity is alarming, especially as STEM careers are often referred to as the jobs of the future, driving innovation, social wellbeing, inclusive growth and sustainable development. UNESCO is giving special attention to this issue as part of its efforts to promote the empowerment of women and girls through education and as a response to its Member States’ decision on UNESCO’s role in encouraging girls and women to be leaders in STEM, including arts and design.
Empowering girls and women to enter STEM fields of study and careers, and stay the course, is an imperative. As Ministers of Education and other stakeholders pointed out during the UNESCO International Symposium and Policy Forum on this topic (Bangkok, 2017), this requires holistic and integrated responses that each across sectors and engage girls and women in identifying solutions to persistent challenges.
UNESCO’s work in this area aims to: