Increasing Women Graduates in Life Sciences, Still Rare in Engineering and Computer Science: UN Report

February 14, 20178:36 am598 views

‘Female engineers and computer programmers wanted,’ is the call from a new United Nations report that shows women are increasingly graduating with life science degrees, but still rare in engineering and computer science, especially in developed economies.

“An analysis of computer science shows a steady decrease in female graduates since 2000 that is particularly marked in high-income countries,” the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization found in its UNESCO Science Report: Towards 2030, released ahead of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, marked annually on 11 February.

The share of women graduates in computer science between 2000 and 2012 slipped in Australia, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea and the United States, as well as in Latin America and the Caribbean.

“This should be a wake-up call,” UNESCO said. “Female participation is falling in a field that is expanding globally as its importance for national economies grows, penetrating every aspect of daily life.”

The share of women working as engineers is also higher in some developing countries, with increases observed in sub-Saharan and Arab countries. Women in the United Arab Emirates, for example, have benefited from national policies that promote training and employment of Emirati citizens, and in particular women.

In her message on the Day, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova called for empowering women and girls to learn and research. “We must raise awareness about the work of women scientists by providing equal opportunities for their participation and leadership in a broad spectrum of high-level scientific bodies and events,” Ms. Bokova said, calling also for mentoring opportunities for women.

In 2016, UNESCO and the L’Oréal Foundation launched the manifesto For Women in Science, to engage governments and stakeholders in promoting the full participation of girls and women in science.

See: 4 in 5 STEM Graduates in Asia Pacific Take Less Than Six Months to Find Their First Job

For its part, UN Women noted that science and technology offer unique opportunities for women and girls to overcome a number of the barriers they typically face. For example: mobile money has empowered and transformed the lives of millions of women previously thought to be “unbankable” by enabling them to directly access financial products and services.

Women with skills in science and technological fields can help improve vital infrastructure such as water and power supply, and in doing so ease the responsibilities that women and girls carry of providing unpaid care work for the household.

Similarly, Internet and mobile technology can help bridge barriers to education for the 32 million girls who are out of school at the primary level and the 29 million at the lower secondary level, explained the main UN entity on women’s empowerment and gender equality.

Encouraging women into research

Women now account for 53 percent of world’s bachelor and master’s graduates in science and 43 percent of PhDs, according to the UNESCO report. Since 2000, there has been a steady increase in female graduates in agricultural sciences, likely driven by an emphasis on national food security and the food industry.

Medicine is also a field increasingly popular with women, with six out of 10 researchers being women in both medical and agricultural sciences in Belarus and New Zealand, for instance.

In research, however, women still lag men at 28 percent. The figure fluctuates geographically with women in Southeast Europe are on par with men, and at 44 percent in Central Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean. To encourage women and girls to study and work in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), the UN has organized a number of events around the world.

Also read: Bridging STEM Skills Gap in Asia: Is Early Intervention the Key?

Image credit: freedigitalphotos.net

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