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Women, agents of change

© Julian Dufort / L’Oréal Foundation.
Prof. Segenet Kelemu, 2014 L'Oréal-UNESCO Awards Laureate for Africa and the Arab States, working in the lab.

In recent years, the number of women involved in science has significantly increased. However, although there are encouraging signs, women are still under-represented in science. Today women account for only 30% of the world’s researchers, and even lower percentages at higher decision-making levels.

If it is widely accepted that creating knowledge and understanding through science will allow us to find solutions to today’s acute economic, social and environmental challenges, in order to achieve sustainable development throughout the world, then science cannot continue to deprive itself of the full scientific potential of over half of the planet’s population.

In this context, given its mandate in science and its past work on women in science, UNESCO has a key role to play in taking up these issues and working to overcome gender disparities in access to, influence over, and use of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).


Addressing persisting gender inequalities in STEM: UNESCO’s solutions

© UNESCO/P. Chiang-Joo, World Science Day for Peace and Development.

© UNESCO/P. Chiang-Joo, World Science Day for Peace and Development at UNESCO.

UNESCO’s Natural Sciences Sector works towards providing strong role models for women and girls in science throughout the world, building capacities of women in STEM, as well as supporting and promoting the contributions of women to scientific knowledge generation and dissemination to advance sustainable development. For instance, since its creation in 1998, the UNESCO-L’Oréal For Women in Science (FWIS) partnership continues to be an outstanding vehicle to celebrate role models from all over the world and to support and inspire women and girls to engage in and pursue scientific careers, while networks such as the Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World (OWSD) serve to strengthen dialogue and lessons learned among women in science.

The STEM and Gender Advancement project (SAGA) also aims to contribute to reducing the gender gap in STEM fields in all countries at all levels of education and research, by determining, measuring and assessing sex-disaggregated data, as well as undertaking an inventory of policy instruments that affect gender equality in STEM, in order to generate new and improve indicators to support future evidence-based policy making.

In addition, the Sector works to promote women’s participation in high-level processes shaping the science agenda and science policies, thus ensuring that the unique perspectives of women scientists and women knowledge holders are incorporated into solutions to the various challenges – such as climate change, biodiversity loss, freshwater management, health of the oceans, developing green industries and societies – of advancing sustainable and equitable development.

Finally, the Sector aims to mainstream gender in all its activities, working groups, committees and programmes.

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