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International Women’s Day 2023: the STEM innovation revolution

Happy International Women’s Day 2023. 

Every year on the 8th of March the world recognises the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women across the globe. We celebrate women around the world and the progress we have made towards achieving gender equality and equity. Today, we also acknowledge that there is still much more work to be done to ensure that every woman and girl has access to all the resources they need to fully realise their human rights and reach their full potential in a safe and equitable manner.

The UN’s theme this year is “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality.” This year’s theme recognises that there is “a persistent gender gap in digital access that keeps women from unlocking technology’s full potential.” 

DigitALL is a global initiative seeking to promote innovation and technology for gender equality, with the aim to ensure that women and girls have equal access to digital tools and skills in the 21st century. 

Digital technology has the potential to transform the world and drive so much progress towards gender equality. “From gender-responsive digital learning to tech-facilitated sexual and reproductive healthcare, the digital age represents an unprecedented opportunity to eliminate all forms of disparity and inequality.”

‘DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality’ acknowledges the grave underrepresentation of women and girls in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education and careers, which according to the United Nations Women, “remains a barrier to their participation in tech design and governance.” Only 35% of STEM students in higher education are women. Only 28% of the STEM workforce are women with only 24% of STEM management positions being filled by women. The gap is wide.

This year as we celebrate International Women’s Day, we call out governments, activists and the private sector, encouraging them to put their efforts behind making the digital world more inclusive and more equitable. 

It starts with supporting women and girls in STEM. Stereotypes and bias about women’s abilities and interests in science and math begin from as early as primary school, continuing throughout their academic and professional lives. Girls are often discouraged from choosing STEM fields based on the stereotypes that their gender is not fitted for the role; it is often viewed as a masculine field. Teachers and parents underestimate girls’ abilities in these subjects, often encouraging them to focus more on traditionally softer areas of study. It is no surprise that one of the few areas of STEM we associate with women is nursing, a role traditionally associated with the gendered expectation of care provision. Without early exposure in STEM fields, girls lack  necessary knowledge to access STEM and so they are less likely to express interest in the field. 

Girls who do pursue STEM careers and make it into the workforce have been challenged by the hostile environment they face. In addition to the low rate of promotion, 52 women for every 100 men, women are also more likely to experience workplace harassment in the field, with 48 per cent having reported these experiences. Giving women equal opportunities to pursue STEM careers not only brings diversity to the STEM workforce, bringing a balance to the field, but also helps to narrow the gender pay gap and enhances economic security.

It is important for schools to include girls in their STEM activities and classes, breaking the male dominated stereotype. It is more important for the private sector to be more inclusive, hire women in STEM careers, promote them and give them equal opportunities to take on leadership roles. The more women we have holding STEM positions and in leadership roles, the more role models we have for young girls to look up to. 

DigitALL is an effort to promote digital literacy for ALL, increasing girls’ exposure to STEM. Digital technologies not only improve access to education and training, but also expands  access to education, thereby bridging the gaps in digital access and skills. While efforts have been made in recent years, the gap between men and women’s access has actually increased by 20 million since 2019.   

Through digital technologies, girls in remote and marginalised communities can access online learning platforms such as Massive Open Online Courses and even connect with women mentors in STEM fields. The access to this education and training, as well as the chance to be mentored by women in STEM presents girls with the opportunity to seek interest in the field.

Also contributing to the digital divide is the prevalence of gender-based violence online. International Women’s Day 2023 and the DigitALL movement brings awareness to this type of violence. Women’s rights activists and feminist movements have used digital technology to connect, mobilise and drive change. 

While we have seen many success stories like the repeal of near-total bans on abortion in Colombia and Ireland, the digital world is not immune to backlash. Due to a lack of legal recourse on this matter, women who  occupy digital spaces are being forced out. According to UN Human Rights Chief Volker Türk, digital technologies have become vehicles for spiteful and hateful abuse of women and girls online. According to UN Women, 85 percent of women have witnessed digital violence against other women and 38 percent of women have personally experienced violence online.

DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality is a movement working to end the digital divide by promoting education and training and by creating a more equitable and innovative sector. 

This year’s theme encourages governments, the private sector, and education to include more women in the technological sector and provide more opportunities to take on leadership roles. DigitALL also calls for women’s safety on digital platforms and so encourages governments to expand legal frameworks to include online gender-based violence. 

International Women’s Day is a day to celebrate women; our achievements and progress over the years. It is most importantly a day to renew our commitment to gender equality and women’s rights. This 8 March, we call for a safer, more inclusive and more equitable digital world.