We Must Act Now for Science and Technology to Drive Gender Equality

We have been addressing gender inequality globally for well over a century, and women and society cannot afford to wait any longer. We must put an expiry date on discrimination against women.
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Mixed race scientist examining molecular model
Mixed race scientist examining molecular model

We have been addressing gender inequality globally for well over a century, and women and society cannot afford to wait any longer. We must put an expiry date on discrimination against women. Progress on the current trajectories is too slow. If nothing changes -- it will take over 80 years before there is parity for girls in secondary education and before women have equal opportunities in employment as men.

To fast-track gender equality around the world, we need to shake up existing dynamics, and pursue game-changing interventions. Science and technology -- particularly information and communications technology (ICT) -- must play a pivotal role.

The STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields squarely underpin human -- and women's -- rights. They increasingly play a profound role in our lives, societies, and economies -- from social interaction and income opportunities, to innovation and sustainability. Every facet of our lives are impacted by these technologies. Adaptation to climate change and changing economies will also require the best STEM thinking. At every level, this best thinking must include the perspectives and experiences of women as well as men.

When women and girls have equal access to and control of technology, the potential benefits are vast. Predictions estimate that ICT skills will be a requisite for 90% of formal jobs in the near future. Already today, these skills offer new forms of income generation. They allow expression of culture and creativity, alternative narratives, and citizen journalism. In their best form, they represent a vehicle for shifting attitudes, behaviours, and institutions -- driving social change, challenging gender norms, and promoting women's empowerment.

Science, technology, and innovation are advancing rapidly. We need policies and systems that incorporate non-stereotypical culture, education and skills, research and development, outreach programs, incentives, priorities, access and adoption, and data and monitoring - with gender equality at their core.

For all these reasons, UN Women has joined forces with the Global Fund for Women and its IGNITE: Women Fueling Science and Technology campaign to call for action to make sure that women and girls are at the center of the global science and technology revolution. Join us and sign our petition to demand that governments, regional institutions, and leading decision makers in the United Nations take critical steps to remove barriers to equal access and participation for women and girls in technology and innovation.

With equal access to and control of STEM, we hope to finally see technology disruptions that will transform women's empowerment. The emerging evidence is already there -- some of the most exciting and innovative UN Women programs are focused on leveraging the power of ICTs. We are running digital literacy and ICT skill development programs in countries including Afghanistan, Guatemala and Jordan, and we are supporting mobile payment and information systems for farmers and women in small businesses in Papua New Guinea and East Africa. UN Women has also been supporting the development of mobile apps and games to raise awareness of violence against women and to support survivors in Brazil and South Africa. We have also partnered with the International Telecommunications Union to launch a new global technology award that recognizes outstanding contributions from women and men in leveraging the potential of information technology to promote gender equality. At the policy level, we are engaged globally and nationally to promote girls and women in STEM, as we believe all stakeholders must be engaged and that science, technology, and gender advocate communities must be brought together.

This is a dynamic time, ripe with thrilling possibilities and profound challenges. Foremost amongst the global challenges to resolve is the persistence of gender inequality. As we approach the post-2015 global development agenda, let us collectively commit to put some of the most powerful tools -- science and technology -- in the hands of women and girls to advance gender equality.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka is United Nations Under-Secretary-General and the Executive Director of UN Women. She was deputy president of South Africa from 2005 to 2008, the first woman to hold the position and the highest ranking woman in the history of South Africa. As UN Women Executive Director, she has put a strong focus on ensuring the development of the next generation of women leaders in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

This blog post is the fourth in a series focused on elevating the stories and issues highlighted in IGNITE: Women Fueling Science and Technology, a global campaign and media project from Global Fund for Women that explores the roles of science and technology in advancing gender equality. UN Women is the lead partner on IGNITE, co-presenting the petition to advocate for women and girls' increased access to and control of technologies and the IGNITE International Girls Hackathon. Global Fund for Women is a grantmaker and global advocate for women's human rights.

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