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Empowering girls in science: a global call for gender equity

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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

Women Rights in China and Challenges

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Women rights and gender discrimination have been a problem for many years in china. Various restrictions were imposed on women to suppress them in society. Income discrepancy and traditional gender roles in country aim to place women inferior as compared with their male counterparts.

There are diverse sectors where women face discrimination. Women of the past and present in china have dealt with unfair employment practices. They have had to jump over the unnecessary hurdles just to keep up with their male counterparts in the society. The Chinese government claims to better prioritize the promotion of gender equality but in reality it does not seem appropriate to say that there is not a single department of life where women are not being suppressed. In jobs, mostly men are preferred over women at high positions. There are a number of contextual examples which demonstrates this discrepancy in the status of women throughout china, and whilst there has been a great deal of the popular sphere, others have been brutally repressed by a government dominated by male families. For example, women who have children do not always receive support from their pay when maternity leave.

China’s history has seen a higher focus on men being the core of not just their families but also they play crucial role in in overall country’s growth and development. Post Confucius era, society labeled men as the yang and women as the yin. In this same vein, society views Yang as active, smart and the dominant half. This compared with Yin, which is soft, passive and submissive. These ideologies are not as prominent today but persist enough that there is a problem.

The tradition begins at birth with boys being the preferred children compared to girls in China. A consensus opinion in the country is that if one has a male child versus a female child, they believe the son will grow into a more successful member of the family. The sons are more likely favored because the issue of pregnancy is a non-factor and they can choose almost any job they desire. Of course, this is something that does not support efforts for gender equality nor women’s rights in China.

A survey done just last year found that 80% of generation Z mothers did not have jobs outside of the home. Importantly, most of those surveyed were from poorer cities. The same survey found that 45% of these stay-at-home mothers had no intention of going back to work. They simply accepted their role of caring for the house. Gender equality and women’s rights in China have shifted toward cutting into the history of patriarchal dominance within the country.

Women’s Rights Movement in China

Since the Chinese government is not completely behind gender equality in China for women, the feminist movement is still active and stronger than ever. In 2015, the day before International Women’s Day, five feminist activists were arrested and jailed for 37 days. They were just five of an even larger movement of activists fighting against the traditional gender role ideology that has placed females below males. These movements have begun to make great progress towards gender inequality within the country. From 2011 to 2015, a “12th Five Year Plan” had goals of reducing gender inequality in education and healthcare.

The plan also was to increase the senior and management positions and make them accessible for women to apply for said positions. Xi Jinping, the current President of the People’s Republic of China, has proclaimed that the country will donate $10 million to the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. During the next five years and beyond, this support will help the women of China and other countries build 100 health projects for women and children. March 1, 2016, the Anti-domestic Violence Law of the People’s Republic of China took effect. This law resulted in the improvement in legislation for gender equality in China. In June of that year, ¥279.453 billion was put forth toward loans to help women, overall.

‘’There are a number of contextual examples which demonstrate this discrepancy in the status of women throughout China, and whilst there has been a great deal of progress made in some elements of the popular sphere, others have been brutally repressed by a government dominated by male influence.

Mao Zedong’s famously published collection of speeches entitled ‘the little red book’ offers a glimpse into the People’s Republic’s public policy in relation to women, as Mao himself is quoted as saying ‘Women hold up half the sky’ and more overtly.’’

In order to build a great socialist society, it is of the utmost importance to arouse the broad masses of women to join in productive activity. Men and women must receive equal pay for equal work in production. Genuine equality between the sexes can only be realized in the process of the socialist transformation of society as a whole.

The china has been widening the gender discrimination gap in the society through legalized way and there is desperate need to raise the voices in gender equality.

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New Social Compact

Gender Pay Gaps during Pandemic: A Reflection on International Workers’ Day 2021

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Men, rather than women, have been disproportionately affected by job losses over time. Nonetheless, the harsh reality of this pandemic recession has shown that women are more likely to be unemployed. As a matter of fact, women have lost substantial jobs as a result of increased childcare needs caused by school and daycare closures, which prohibit many women from working, and as a result of their employment being concentrated in heavily affected sectors such as the services sector (hospitality business, restaurant, retail outlets and so on). According to a study by Alon et al, women’s unemployment increased by 12.8 percent during the first period of Covid-19 (from March 2020), while men’s unemployment increased by just 9.9 percent. Changes in job rates (which include transfers into and out of the labor force) follow the same trend, with women experiencing a much greater drop in employment than men during the recession. Similar trends have been seen in other pandemic-affected countries.

In Southeast Asia, where informal workers account for 78 percent of the workforce, women make up the majority of blue-collar employees. In Indonesia, the Philippines, Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar, women make up a substantial portion of the domestic workers, despite having a low contractual working status in informal settings. They are underpaid as a result of the pandemic, and the Covid-19 recession has reduced their importance in the workplace. Indonesia as one of the countries which affected by pandemic also experienced similar thing, with two-thirds of the female population in the active age group (between 15 and 64 years old), Indonesia is supposed to have tremendous potential for accelerating its economic development, but the truth is the opposite due to the never-ending pandemic. Since the pandemic began, many employees, mostly women, have lost their jobs or had their working hours shortened. Of course, their daily wages are affected by this situation. Besides, the wage gap between men and women also widens from March 2020 to March 2021, with women in the informal sector receiving up to 50% less than men, clearly resulting in discriminatory practices.Despite the fact that Indonesia ratified the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) Convention No. 100 on Equal Remuneration in 1958, fair and equal salaries have remained unchanged until now, and the legislation seems to have been overlooked and inapplicable in a pandemic situation.

Furthermore, the issue is not resolved at that stage. Apart from the pandemic, both formal and informal workers are exposed to various work systems and regulations. Women may have similar experiences with low wages and unequal payment positions in both environments, but women who work in the formal sector have the capacity, experience, and communication skills to negotiate their salaries with their employers, while women who work in the informal sector do not. Women in informal work face a number of challenges, including a lack of negotiation skills and a voice in fighting for their rights, particularly if they lack support structures (labor unions). Furthermore, when it comes to employees’ salaries, the corporate system is notoriously secretive. Another issue that continues to upset women is the lack of transparency in employee wages. Despite the fact that the national minimum wage policy is regulated by the government, only a small number of female workers are aware of it.

Overcoming Gender Pay Gaps within Pandemic Condition

In the spirit of International Workers’ Day 2021, there should be an organized and systematic solution to (at the very least) close the wage gap between men and women in this pandemic situation. International organizations and agencies also attempted to convince national governments to abolish gender roles and prejudices, however this is insufficient. As a decision-maker, the government must ‘knock on the door’ of companies and businesses to support and appreciate work done disproportionately by women. Furthermore, implementing transparent and equitable wage schemes is an important aspect of significantly changing this phenomenon. Real action must come not only from the structural level (government and corporations), but also from society, which must acknowledge the existence of women’s workers and not undervalue what they have accomplished, because in this Covid-19 condition, women must bear the “triple burden” of action, whether in productive work (as a worker or labor), reproductive work (as a wife and mother), and also as a member of society. Last but not least, women must actively engage in labor unions in order to persuade gender equality in the workplace and have the courage to speak out for their rights, as this is the key to securing fair wages. And when women are paid equally, their family’s income rises, and they contribute more to the family’s well-being.

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New Social Compact

Latvian human rights activists condemn homophobia in China, Latvia and the world

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The issue of human rights of LGBT persons is like a hot potato – hard to spit it out, but also hard to swallow. Despite majority of the public having nothing against the LGBT community, people are afraid to allow them to have the same human rights everyone else has.

Governments and politicians also clash when it comes to fully recognizing the human rights of LGBT persons – and communist China is no exception. Interestingly, the Chinese Communist Party maintains a stance of double morals on this issue. On the one hand, during UN meetings China always reproaches other nations about homophobia and violations of LGBT rights. On the other hand, China has never been able to eradicate homophobia in the Chinese community, but instead has furthered it, for instance, by banning Eurovision broadcasts in China and by trying to ignore the existence of an LGBT community in China.

The Chinese Communist Party has become seriously entangled in its own ideology – as I already wrote, Chinese representatives have no shame in criticizing other countries’ discrimination of people with a non-traditional sexual orientation, stressing that China doesn’t consider homosexuality to be a mental illness. Moreover, the Chinese government has publicly stated that China supports the activities of LGBT organization. But this is simply not true! Although on the international stage Beijing acts as a protector of the human rights of LGBT communities and agitates for the equality of gays and lesbians, in China itself LGBT and women’s rights activists are being repressed, detained and held in labor camps. Thus, Beijing is doing everything in its power to suppress women’s rights and human rights in general.

The most pathetic thing in all this is that Beijing has always voted against all UN initiatives and resolutions that concern the recognition and establishment of human rights for LGBT persons, as this would draw even more attention to the violations of human rights in China itself.

In this regard, in solidarity with Chinese LGBT representatives the leading protector of LGBT human rights from the party Latvian Russian Union (LKS) Aleksandrs Kuzmins and one of the LKS’s leaders and MEP Tatjana Ždanoka have expressed concerns over the recent homophobic attacks in Latvia and are urging citizens from Latvia and around the world to attach a rainbow flag next to the ribbon of St. George during the upcoming 9 May Victory Day celebrations, thus commemorating members of the LGBT community that died during World War II.

Kuzmins stressed that during WWII members of the LGBT community also fought against Nazi Germany, adding that it’s no secret that in the Soviet army there were hundreds and thousands of gays and lesbians who fought shoulder to shoulder for the freedom of their motherland. These people were, however, repressed and exiled to Siberia after the war by the Stalin regime. Most of them were tortured to death in gulags, which is confirmed by information recently acquired from Moscow’s archives.

Human rights activists from the LKS believe that it’s time for people to change and openly talk about the mistakes that were made in the past – we don’t live in the Middle Ages anymore and we should get rid of ancient dogmas and stereotypes about the LGBT community, lest more people fall victim to the intolerance and hate.

On the eve of the Victory Day, the LKS urges global leaders to admit the severe mistakes that have been made and to end the repressions against their own LGBT communities.

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