#16Days of Activism – A Discussion about Women in STEM, by Durham University Feminism Society

By Sharon Karikari

So what is STEM? By definition STEM is Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. On Tuesday 17 November, two members from the Durham University Feminism Society exec committee, who were also students from the sciences, conducted a very thought-provoking and interesting presentation. The presentation delved into why it is important to establish equal representation in STEM, concluding that it is important to have women in these areas. It highlighted the importance that when disciplines such as STEM encourage diversity, equality and inclusion, it can therefore be shown that there is a direct link between diversity and outcome of knowledge. This is very important in an area such as STEM, which is very influential in the world around us.

A very important aspect that was presented during the presentation was the fact that medicine, which is part of STEM, often ignores certain intersections such as women, trans and intersex individuals. Thus the lobbying for STEM to be more intersectional is important as when there is more diversity in terms of research areas, science, technology, engineering and mathematics can cover and contribute to a diversity of people.

The wage gap was also discussed. STEM careers are some of the most highly paid careers and therefore seeing women in such positions is important in creating an equal representation in pay in the working world. WISE statistics show the current situation as being that only 14.4% of all STEM jobs in the UK are held by women, and about 8% for engineering. Moreover, the presentation helped one to recognise that women have been interested in science for a long time, and it is therefore not a new phenomenon. Women throughout time have contributed to science, but it is only more recently that there has been more recognition for their achievements. Several excellent examples of prominent female scientists throughout history were discussed, such as Ada Lovelace, Rosalind Franklin, Marie Curie and Laura Bassi (where we all learned the interesting fact that Bassi raised 12 children and still managed to write a Physics paper at a time were women were only viewed and valued in terms of the private sphere of life).

So why does this all matter, especially to the 16 Days of Activism? The campaign runs this year from 25th November till 10th December, Human Rights Day, as a time for action to end violence against women and girls around the world. The focus is on Education and violations to the rights of Education. Education is a human right and focusing on subjects such as STEM, where marginalised groups are not heard, is something that needs to be brought to light and this campaign aims to do that. Why is this still important today? Women are still being taught that certain subjects are for boys. Although this is being tackled by initiatives to encourage women, girls and other marginalised groups into STEM, many across the world are still being denied the right to such aspirations. When it comes to STEM, which is a powerful tool in our lives today through professions such as medicine and healthcare, it is very concerning if women are not being heard or their voices are not contributing to things that affect them. Girls need to have role models and the internet need to be encouraged to promote this.

Education is a fundamental human right recognized in Article 26 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and upheld in various international and regional human rights conventions and treaties. However, the fundamental right to an education is subject to political, economic and social shift and upheavals (especially for women, girls, people with disabilities, LGBTQI people, refugees, immigrants and indigenous people). These intersections are vulnerable to being denied the right to an education, and less likely to be encouraged to enter the world of academia and prominent subject areas such as STEM. Therefore, it is time that awareness of the marginalisation of these groups is raised around the world, particularly the refusal to let them access knowledge or have their voices heard in areas that may affect them in a specific subject discipline. The 16 Days of awareness-raising, in terms of Education, helps us to consider such important issues in activism.

References and acknowledgements

Durham University Feminism Society Women in STEM presentation and Notes




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