Gender inequality (SDG5) is an issue that’s been raised more in the media now than ever before since it ultimately determines our civilised international society. As a civil servant, I feel the urge to highlight the different implications of this phenomena within the developed and developing worlds to propose resolutions accordingly. In this blog, I focus on occupations involving STEM because the gender disparity gravely persists and remains insoluble in both worlds.
According to the World Economic Forum’s 2019 Global Gender Gap report, there are 3.5 times more men than women among AI professionals. This originates from the ongoing false perception that females can hardly progress with a STEM career since they are incomparable to males in performing science-related tasks.
I believe that the STEM-related populations, split by the said two genders, are more balanced in developed countries. This firstly thanks to the greater flexibility of major and occupation choices developed societies offer to their students, in comparison to those in other regions. For instance, as a Vietnamese woman, I have grown up with the society’s traditional expectations to either become a teacher or a housewife, whilst my brother can only follow STEM subjects, and going against our parents’ opinion is unacceptable. In St. Andrews, I find it surprising how my European and American friends can freely choose whatever degree route they desire, from Physics to History of Arts.
Moreover, to erase stereotypes and unconscious gender bias, an impressive number of gender-equality initiatives have been issued in the West. To illustrate, the not-for-profit Association for Women in
Science (AWIS) offers mentoring, coaching, and consultancy services to any female STEM worker. Additionally, Former President Obama’s Change the Equation (CTE) aims to supply teenage girls with better STEM education, encouraging them to get more involved in these sectors (more to find here). With these schemes and more effective women's rights campaigns in these Western nations, the gap of STEM skills between two genders will certainly narrow down in the future.
Nevertheless, only 6 European countries provide women with the equal legal work rights as men, according to The World Bank’s recent Women, Business and the Law report. Belgium, Denmark, France, Latvia, Luxembourg and Sweden were the few to offer women the worthiest pension schemes and full employment mobility. These elements strongly influence women’s decision to go to work, because they are to maintain a work-life balance for their families simultaneously.
In brief, even though women in developed nations are highly encouraged to participate in STEM industries, they are still constrained by the limited countries with (full) legal work rights and duties. This will certainly slow down the closure of gender inequality at the workplace, not only that of STEM but also many others.
Developing and underdeveloped nations
In developing countries, male has always remained more dominant in the STEM sector. Stereotypes here are more widespread and persistent due to the depressingly lower level of national awareness in comparison to developed countries. In rural areas, education is privileged to solely boys. In Northern Africa, according to the UN, this imbalance in opportunities led to women holding less than a fifth of the total paid jobs that are non-agriculturally related. STEM industries is a large subset of this. On top of women having difficulties in occupying STEM related jobs, it is not easy once they are in the workplace since they stand a much higher risk of being sexually harassed. Of course, this is due to the fact that they are surrounded by a lot of men and the majority of them perceive women as inferior.
Shockingly, in 18 countries such as Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria, Sudan,Yemen, etc., husbands continue to legally monopolise their wives’ ability to enter the workforce. This further supports the lasting stereotype that women should remain in charge of household chores; whilst men are merited to not only education but also paid jobs. In my opinion, this mindset gives men in developing countries more access to modernisation and broaden their horizons, which leaves women further behind. To fix this, both genders must have equal entitlements to be educated, leading to the evidence of women's intellect spreading to places where media cannot, ultimately easing the process of them entering the workplace. If women do not join and do that without comfort, it would be
very difficult for those countries to develop.
In summary, with fewer effective initiatives to encourage women participation in STEM and stereotypes are too hard to remove in the populous developing nations, the global gender gap of 72% and the even broader STEM competency gap are yet to be resolved.