At the U.N. Women Still Ask: Why So Few?

March 04, 2011

It was an enriching, busy, and hectic time for AAUW staff and volunteers at the 55th U.N. Commission on the Status of Women, but our U.N. representative Carolyn Donovan kept us all on track.

We started off with a remarkable panel hosted by the Girl Scouts entitled Girls Voices: A Global View of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. Girls led the event and were the stars — as they were throughout the CSW. We heard about their struggles in classroom, including  taunting from boys about not being smart enough or worthy. A young chess champion spoke of the disrespect she faced when her opponent “refused to shake my hand or certify the match” after she won. A Cameroonian girl told us in a powerful speech that “because I am a girl, I will cook food while my brother does science homework.” She shared the frustration of having 10 computers for the 1,000 students in her school and the aggressiveness of boys in physically keeping girls from using the computers. The participant from Indonesia spoke of her desire to progress in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) so that she can have a strong career. Every voice made it abundantly clear that access to and participation in STEM is a universal issue for girls. The speakers’ experiences mirrored each other — whether they were from the United States, Cameroon, Indonesia, or somewhere in between.

We know that AAUW’s research report Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics has permeated the general population since one of the teenage participants spoke of a “fixed mindset” and “growth mindset,” concepts that were featured in the report! AAUW of Pennsylvania member and National Girls Collaborative Project Liaison Dot McLane shared key findings from the report and engaged the audience with many of the recommendations that seek to increase girls’ and women’s participation in STEM.

AAUW’s Jill Birdwhistell delivered a statement (found at 1:15:16 in the webcast) during Panel 1. Throughout the week, we heard from women leaders who are champions for women and girls: Ambassador-at-Large Melanne Verveer, astronaut Mae Jemison, White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett, and actress Geena Davis.

AAUW co-sponsored an excellent panel hosted by the Virginia Gildersleeve International Fund entitled the Cutting Edge: Technology and Its Impact on Work, Wealth, and Women’s Leadership. The panel highlighted the transformative ways in which technology is expanding opportunities for women to access financial resources and conduct financial transactions, the need for women to create wealth for women, and the importance of microfinance.

In collaboration with World ORT, AAUW hosted a panel entitled Why So Few? How to Attract Many. I moderated the panel, which featured AAUW’s Andresse St. Rose (who also did double duty on BPW International’s great panel Putting Gender on the Agenda), Valerie Khaytina from World ORT, and two inspiring female students studying in STEM fields. The discussants shared successful models and recommendations for cultivating achievement and persistence in STEM.

I was privileged to attend the historic launch of U.N. Women, where U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon told the audience about the formation of the new group. “We did it for the girl who cannot go to school simply because she is a girl,” he said.

By:   |   March 04, 2011

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