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Empowering girls in science: a global call for gender equity

Rattana Lao

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BANGKOK – Bias has it: science is for men not for women. Therefore, promoting girls in science begins with changing this image: shifting the tide and challenging the male-centric paradigm. But is it an ideal goal that goes against the gigantic wall of gender bias?

In a recent global report on this subject, Cracking the code: girls and women’s education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), launched by UNESCO aims to address this pressing issue. The report tries to find out not only why such gender bias is an endemic problem globally but also what can be done to end it collectively.

Studies have shown that this gender bias for men in science has little – if nothing – to do with innate abilities or sex differences. It is not that girls do not do well in Maths and Science. Quite the contrary. From the international assessment test of more than a hundred countries, TIMSS 2015, it is pointed out that 53% of the participating countries show no significant sign of differences between the performance of male and female students, while 23% of the countries show that female students perform better than male students in science achievement. This is particularly true for Asian and Arab countries.

girlscrackthecode

Source: UNESCO/ W.Field

Instead of blaming the bias on innate ability, it is important to understand that these barriers are socially constructed with context specifics. These biasses are caused by social, cultural and gender norms in most countries around the world that reinforce gender preference for men in science education and subsequently career choice.

From the very young age, girls are told, again and again, that there is no place for them in science subjects and that these subjects are “masculine”. Such worldview has been reproduced and dominated girls of all age, race and colours. The report pointed out: “girls are often brought up to believe that STEM are masculine topics and that female ability in this field is innately inferior to that of males.”

Generations of girls across the globe grows up with that repetitive and damaging message that destroys their self confidence, interest and willingness to excel in science. To make matter worst, it is the prejudice of the immediate family and closed relatives that hurt the most. Young girls are discouraged because it is not culturally valued and supported by their family.

The lack of confidence plays a crucial role in re-directing girls attention away from science related subjects career. There are only 3% of ICT graduates globally who are women. Only 35% of women enrolled in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. This is not to mention that women decided to leave STEM careers once they have graduated disproportionally to men creating a gender disparity and aggravating gender inequality of all levels.

Consequently, only 28% of the world’s researchers are women.

Stereotype, female identity, family’s expectation and working conditions are not conducive to female scientists.

The low participation rate of women in STEM subjects is a worry for all. Fighting gender inequality is a fight for sustainable development. It is the two sides of the same coin. Director General of UNESCO, Irene Bokova, persuasively linked the two elements together: “[The STEM gender gap] disempowers girls and women and throws a shadow over entire societies, placing a break on progress to sustainable development. In this new age of limits, when every country is seeking new sources of dynamism, no one can afford to shunt aside 50 percent of its creativity, 50 percent of its innovation.”

This has to change. But change does not come overnight – despite well meaning and idealism.

To empower girls in science requires creative and innovative effort from all level, policy commitment and societal willingness to overcome centuries of structural impediments against girls and women.

If prejudice begins from family, it is the family that needs to change. Parental beliefs and expectations must respect girls’ talents and their aspiration. Since the very young age, girls need encouragement from the family to participate in science and math related activities and overcome gender disparities.

The schools need to pay more attention to girls and cater the curriculum and learning materials to nurture girls’ interests and talents. Science teachers who are female is pivotal to this effort as a role model to inspire, mentor and nurture their confidence.

Science/ maths clubs, competitions and camps are powerful learning spaces to promote and encourage girls to be in science. As things stand, these opportunities are limited to gifted students who already are interested in STEM. Concerted efforts are needed to widen learning spaces in order to make it more equitable and inclusive for girls of wider talents.

All these efforts are piecemeal without commitment of resources from governments to promote opportunities for girls to learn science and pursue career in related fields. Legislation, financial incentives and targeted intervention are needed to produce more female science teachers and reproduce even more female science students. 

Empowering girls in science might be lofty but not doing it is no longer an option.

Rattana Lao holds a doctorate in Comparative and International Education from Teachers College, Columbia University and writes on education and development. She is based in Bangkok, Thailand.

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New Social Compact

The Depth of Taboo: Social Issues in South Asia

Dr. Matthew Crosston

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Rarely does a geopolitical handbook also make such large and important contributions to uncomfortably critical social issues. This handbook is that rare example. The author Aryal takes our MD readers deep into some disturbing discussions – caste systems, systematic violence against women, rape, honor killings, gender stigmatizing, and societal sexism – not to just anecdotally expose people to some of the continued living horrors afflicting important regions of the world but to systematically analyze such atrocities so that their long-term political, economic, social, and diplomatic consequences are revealed.

What many around the world do not realize is how crippling these gross abuses of human decency can be for a nation and region writ large: these are not just individual crimes to be noted and then forgotten. The failure of societies, the failure of GLOBAL society, to make more effective progress and take a more rigid stand against injustice is a black mark on all countries, on all of us. This handbook in its own small way strives to be a light within that darkness and as such it is both informative and courageous. While the readers of MD will not find the content of this particular handbook for the faint of heart, the importance of acquiring this knowledge, of becoming more aware of the world that we live in as it truly is in so many places, should be considered a duty of all those fortunate enough to not be born into states where such systemic violence still exists and largely goes unchallenged.

The title of this work is no accident and no shameless marketing attempt to attract more readers. Rather, it is exposing in a single word the reason why overcoming systemic violence based on gender is so difficult. Social taboos run deep in every region, state, city, town, village. We will likely not succeed in eliminating them from the social conscience of people. But the attempt to ameliorate the power of taboo, its power to push rationality out and pull insanity in, is a noble one that all of us at the editorial staff at MD recognize as silently essential for the cause of future peace on so many different levels. The battle against taboo is the secret front end of the war against gender violence and oppression. Ultimately, the criminal justice systems of societies must improve to remedy those actions not prevented from occurring. But the real long-term comprehensive solution will be the effort to eliminate the fear of social taboos, to eliminate the stigma that drives many to commit ignorant violence in the first place.

Read online or download here

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Women and girls with autism must be empowered to overcome discrimination they face

MD Staff

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On World Autism Awareness Day, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has joined the global call to empower women and girls with autism and involve them and their advocates in policy and decision-making to address the discrimination and other challenges they face.

“They face […] barriers to accessing education and employment on an equal footing with others, denial of their reproductive rights and the freedom to make their own choices, and a lack of involvement in policy making on matters that concern them,” said the Secretary-General in his message on the Day.

Emphasizing that “our work for gender equality and women’s empowerment must reach all the world’s women and girls,” he stressed that the international community’s efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) must uphold the 2030 Agenda’s core promise to leave no one behind.

The Goals and the landmark framework from which they emerged were adopted by UN Member States three years ago. Together they aim to wipe out poverty and boost equality by putting the world on a more sustainable economic, social and environmental path by 2030.

“On World Autism Awareness Day, let us reaffirm our commitment to promote the full participation of all people with autism, and ensure they have the necessary support to be able to exercise their rights and fundamental freedoms,” concluded the Mr. Guterres.

Autism is a lifelong neurological condition that manifests during early childhood, irrespective of gender, race or socio-economic status. The term Autism Spectrum refers to a range of characteristics.

Autism is mainly characterized by its unique social interactions, non-standard ways of learning, keen interests in specific subjects, inclination to routines, challenges in typical communications and particular ways of processing sensory information.

The rate of autism in all regions of the world is high and the lack of understanding has a tremendous impact on the individuals, their families and communities.

The World Day is marked annually on 2 April, and this year’s official UN commemoration will be on Thursday, 5 April, with a half-day programme in New York entitled Empowering Women and Girls with Autism, that will feature a keynote address from Julia Bascom, Executive Director, Autistic Self Advocacy Network.

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New Social Compact

Law in societies: Encounters vs. Anarchy

David Ceasar Wani

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In this essay I will discuss the purpose of law in society but before I go further law refers to the system of rules that a particular country or community recognizes as regulating the actions of its members and may enforce by the imposition of penalties.

Some human beings can be aptly described as weak willed animals. They are easily influenced by the slightest sight or sniff of power and money. This originates from insatiable greed. Greed that can sometimes make even the iron willed loses their head. How many stories have we heard since our childhood where many “heroes” lost their way to the path of glory by being trapped by greed?

Our one aim in life has always been to find balance and serenity in our lives. A utopian society envisages a vision where people govern themselves. People trust each other blindly. They achieve happiness. People set their goals, lead disciplined lives and achieve anything they set their sights on They are able to live their lives to the fullest and all the time feeling secure about it.

However the vision, unfortunately, exists in an ideal world which frankly is almost the opposite of today’s real world. Our realistic society is heterogeneous mixture of all kinds of people, people who look to disturb the balance of the natural society. It is here that law plays a very important role in restoring that delicate balance back to the society and making the lives of the people living together cohesive. It is here that law helps to maintain the morality of the people as individuals as well as the society as a whole.

World without Let us imagine a world without any law to punish the wrong doer. Let us assume that the society has till now lived an honest life without any kind of betrayal. Suppose a person, in greed, steals a valuable item from his neighbor’s house. He isn’t punished but everyone knows what he has done. Some naive person, probably a youngster witnesses this and is tempted to steal because he knows there are no repercussions. This develops into a never-ending chain endangering the very foundations of the society.

Another example might be a survival situation. A group of people are stranded on an island with twenty days of food and water. They know that a rescue team will reach them on the twenty first day. They carefully divide the food such that they get the necessary nourishments by the time they are rescued. A person, out of greed for more, sneaks quietly and consumes two days of food meant for the whole group. When the group discovers what has happened they confront the person who cunningly reasons with the group that there was no rule or law which forbade eating more. As the group consisted of educated men and women, both young and old, they knew his reasoning was correct and they could not do anything to get the food back. As a result, they starved for two whole days during which a few old people fell ill and could not make it.

Law is essential and many do ask why and how but Law is essential in the society and it is there to guide the society towards happiness without bloodshed and in peace and harmony. Law helps us to restrain ourselves in times of great thirst for more money or power. It curbs our greed reminding us that there is someone or rather something out there ready to punish us if necessary. It helps to restore the balance in the society and bring justice to the victimized. The greatest thing about law is that all are equal before it. No man is rich or poor in the eyes of the law. No man is more powerful than the other in the eyes of the law. Law helps to regulate the behavior of the people. It prevents us from descending into anarchy.

Law is dynamic. It is constantly adapting to the changing times so as to close all the loopholes that may be left due to human error. Our Preamble states the ideals of justice liberty sovereignty fraternity and equality which constitute the basic foundation of Our Constitution. However, without law these ideals will be constantly shattered. There will be nothing to protect these ideals.

In a world where ‘survival of the fittest’ is prevalent, and looking at the size of human population we can say only one thing. Law is needed for survival. We cannot go against each other as it will definitely lead to destruction. Law plants an element of fear which may prevents in killing of fellow human being. It gives each one his or her own share, what they deserve.

Laws tell us what to expect as consequences as a result of our actions. It makes us look before we leap. It is there to protect and to destroy. It restricts people who get carried away due to the freedom given to them by the absence of law if this is the case. They know one abuse of the law will affect them economically, mentally and physically. Some exceptions may be found but this is applicable for the majority.

In addition the natural law which can be refers to Mother Nature herself which follows many rules and laws which help in the sustainability of this world and the life which flourishes on it in abundance. Every living organism, from the tiny unicellular amoeba to the biggest animal the blue whale follows a set of laws to survive.

Let us take the examples of honey bees. They follow the orders of the queen bee and visit hundreds and thousands of flowers to carry the process of pollination which helps in reproduction of these plants. They have to follow a set of rules or laws which will help in this important process. If one of them breaks the law, they are ordered to leave the bee hive. They cannot join another hive nor can they return. It is as good as giving them a life sentence. This life-threatening situation helps to keep the honey bees in check and brings order into the hive.

Same can be said for the birds which migrate every winter or summer depending upon their pattern. They have to follow a set of rules or laws which will help them navigate their way. One abuse of these laws can lead to cases extreme to death.

When in the modern society our modern society has become quite educated and the main question that arises from them is that who has the authority to form these laws which imposes a restriction on their lives. They question and debate upon the authority that makes these laws and rightly so. Once they are satisfied with the authority they know that their lives are secure and they are free to concentrate on their aims and dreams in life. Law is there to attempt to balance the needs of individuals against the needs of the majority. We accept responsibilities, we renounce some of our freedoms (not kill others, not harm others, not steal from other members of the society) to receive in return the benefits of society (not being kill by others, not being harm by others, not being robbed by other members of the society).

Law helps in removal of social stigmas such as dowry and untouchability. For example, in some Constitutions, it talks about untouchability and even though it still exists today, the number of cases has comparatively gone down a lot. This is just one example that law can have in a society which is not perfect, a society where human beings fight, and abuse and kill their own species. This is how law helps in protection of the underprivileged.

Furthermore Law plays a significant role in producing successful societal functions around the world. Law helps regulate social behaviors, ultimately leading to society running efficiently. Without laws, society would have no ethical boundaries or standards, no rules or measures, nor any means of settling even the simplest disputes. Law helps keep the peace in society through governance and standards set forth by all voting citizens. All functions of law in society include peacekeeping, promoting personal freedom, regulating government power, promoting economic growth, promoting social justice, and protecting all of society and the environment. It is important to remember without laws to govern the actions of people in society, it is highly likely all social structure and commerce would collapse. If one can imagine what life would be like if every prisoner in the world were to be released back into society that would be about how unsafe and dysfunctional society would be without laws (Melvin, 2011).

Law and Society The function of law in a society is more or less universal. It acts as a deterrent to control the evil and treacherous behavior of humans, to maintain discipline and imposes restrictions on some freedom. We live in a chaotic and uncertain world. Without an orderly environment based on and backed by law, the normal activities of life would be lacerated with chaos. Law is a social norm, the infraction of which is sanctioned in treat or in fact by the application of physical force or by a party possessing the socially recognized privilege or so acting. It provides a society with order and predictability, resolving disputes, protecting individuals and property, providing for the general welfare and protecting individual liberties. Law and the predictability it provides cannot guarantee us a totally safe world, but it can create a climate in which people believe it is worthwhile to produce, venture fort, and to live for the morrow. It prevents the state of nature, which would be total anarchy had there been no laws. Societies today are more complex and interacting. Maintaining good order and discipline have far reaching implications on a society’s prosperity. Laws are in acted daily throughout different societies for the protection and security of individuals, property, businesses and states. It permits an orderly, peaceful process for dispute resolution and provides us with the programs to establish and enable corporately, what would be impossible, or at least prohibitive, to do as individuals. Laws should be designed to protect the individual personal and civil rights against those forces, which would curtail or restrict them. Some examples of this are freedom of speech, religion, the press, the right to a fair trial and the freedom from cruel and unusual punishment. In the United States the respect for the law is paramount and disobedience to the law.

In conclusion it can be implied by common sense that law helps us to survive as a society and it is convenient. Convenient is comfortable and humans look for comfort above all things apart from happiness. Also law helps in getting rid of the social barriers that exist in our society. Through law we survive yet thrive. Hence law is necessary in a society.

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