Five reasons the pandemic won’t stop us talking about women in STEM

Graphic stating number of Peru women researchers

By Claudia Celis and Natalia Gima –

Because we need to keep girls interested in STEM

Less than 30% of researchers worldwide are women. Peru is no exception. Most researchers are male.

Younger generations give us hope. According to Concytec (Peru’s National Council of Science and Innovation), 55% of the projects presented at the National School Science and Technology Fair "Eureka" were led by girls. This number seems to be growing. The involvement of younger generations of girls in STEM is increasing and we must work to maintain this and cultivate their interests and talents.

Because we need to celebrate women doing amazing things right now

The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the importance of supporting and listening to science, technology and innovation on an academic, political and cultural level. Women have led the scientific field. Professor Sarah Gilbert, a British vaccinologist, led the process for the creation of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine. Katalin Karico, a Hungarian biochemist, is one of the lead scientists behind the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. In Peru, scientists such as Dr Monica Pajuelo, who is working on a fast molecular test and Dr Fanny Casado, a chemist and toxicologist working on a project of ventilators made in Peru, are contributing to the country's response to Covid-19. The more women in science, the bigger the possibilities for development and for finding solutions to many problems.

Because we still need to raise awareness about barriers women face

It’s clear that stereotypes about women and men continue to thrive. We need to fight this. In 2016 the United Nations declared 11 February as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. Recognising that achieving equality in this field is fundamental to fulfil the 2030 Development Agenda and its 17 Global Goals. This day celebrates the achievements of women in STEM all around the world and invites debate to find solutions to pressing problems that are still withholding women from developing their full potential. For the last three years we have gathered public and private organisations together to celebrate this day. We started with a small group of four organisations including the British Embassy, British Council, Britanico (Cultural organisation) and Concytec. Now we are nine, including the Ministry of Women and Vulnerable Population, the Municipality of Lima, UNESCO, UNICEF and L’Oreal, with many other institutions looking to join. We have been working to inspire more girls to get interested in STEM careers, as well as raising awareness about the challenges and barriers women in the sciences face.

Because we need solutions that work for everyone

Science, technology and innovation is about creating a better world for us all to live in. Men and women don’t experience the world in the same way, and we don’t experience the same challenges. That's not to say that men can't conduct research or develop innovations that benefit women. But the best problem-solvers are often those unfortunate enough to experience the problem first-hand. When men and women are equally represented in STEM fields, we are more likely to come up with the best solutions to global problems and reduce inequalities elsewhere.

Because we must keep up momentum

Throughout the years, we have supported activities such as partnering young girls with female researchers leading Newton Fund projects in Peru, so they can share their experiences; field visits for girls and scientists to the beach to explore how science is alive; training workshops on coding; round tables with authorities and female researchers about barriers for their career development and to explore solutions.

We decided that we must keep up momentum this year and not let the pandemic get in the way of our mission.

  • On 11 February 2021 we hosted a meeting between the President of Peru, Francisco Sagasti, who is also a researcher, and a group of schoolgirls, winners of the National School Science and Technology Fair “Eureka”.
  • We held webinars with influencers, teachers and students in the STEM field, scientific ‘clown shows’, and virtual gatherings of girls with Peruvian female scientists.
  • We created a webpage, which we will remain for future International Days of Women and for Girls in Science. It will help promote different activities throughout the years related to this topic. You can visit the webpage.
  • We have supported a capacity building programme for school teachers on coding and digital citizenship in Cajamarca region
  • The British Ambassador met these teachers virtually and hosted a presentation on the project. This was followed by a sample of coding training to a wider audience. The coding training provides teachers with new tools for their science classes, so they can  encourage girls to follow this path. It also tackles the stereotype that coding is only for boys. Through a partnership with the British Council and Britanico, Raspberry Pi computers will be donated to a teacher and her female students who will also receive training on coding.

Despite the difficulties this year, we are very happy with the outcome and with the work we are already planning with our partner institutions on this important issue.

We are glad to know that each year more organisations are willing to promote more equal opportunities in the scientific field. It allows us to be more ambitious and we should be.

Even though there is still so much to change, the involvement of the private and public sector, media and civil society is encouraging and only helps to demonstrate the importance of celebrating women and working together to make a fairer and better society.

Claudia Celis and Natalia Gima are Newton Fund officers based in Peru. 

This blog is part of a series about tackling gender inequality and the women who lead ground-breaking research and innovation and inspire future generations. Learn more.

Find out more about Newton Fund in Peru.

SDG 5 icon gender equality
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