In recognition of the importance of science and technology for development, the fifty-fifth session UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) taking place at United Nations Headquarters in New York from Tuesday, 22 February to Friday, 4 March 2011 is focusing this year on “Access and participation of women and girls to education, training, science and technology, including for the promotion of women’s equal access to full employment and decent work.”
While girls and women have made significant inroads in education, those gains have not translated fully into increased employment opportunities and better quality jobs. Women face specific barriers, including discriminatory laws, restrictive social norms, limited access to information and social networks, and unequal sharing of responsibilities within the household.
In order to discuss how to overcome these barriers, UNDP, UNCDF and UN Women, in partnership with the civil society organizations Kuwa Ajabu Foundation, MEMPROW and Blue Rain organized a side event on “Education, Science, Technology and the Empowerment of Women: ‘Emerging Evidence of change from Africa”, to showcase results of supported initiatives. The event provided a forum to discuss the gender dimensions of education, training, science and technology, and how these facilitate or constrain women’s access to full and decent employment, focusing on practical experiences, lessons learnt and strategic options to improve policy and programming.
Panelists agreed that science education is essential since the global economy is increasingly knowledge-driven and requires an educated workforce that is able to apply existing technology and develop new technologies to combat poverty and adapt to emerging issues such as climate change. Ensuring that women acquire the necessary skills and competencies in science and technology is an economic imperative; it also empowers women and girls to make informed decisions on critical aspects of their lives.
The experiences shared by representatives of several African Governments shown how science, technology and innovation can be a tool with which to accelerate the achievement of the internationally agreed development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals. Technology can, for instance, facilitate efforts to eradicate poverty, achieve food security, fight diseases, improve education and respond to the challenges of climate change. Installing solar water heating technology in rural clinics, for example, can help prevent infections and contribute to reducing maternal and child mortality.
The side event also focused on measuring the impact of women’s development programs. “Investing in women is recognized not only as the right thing to do but also the smart thing to do. Mounting evidence demonstrates that increases in women’s income lead to improvements in children’s health, nutrition and education” said Mr. David Morrison, UNCDF Executive Secretary. “But measurement is crucial when talking about women’s empowerment. We need to start now about how to improve our understanding of what constitutes progress. More work is needed to develop indicators to guide our future efforts. In particular, we should be focused on outcome and not inputs.” he said.
Despite the efforts, gender equality and science and technology too often continue to be seen as distinct issues. The UNDP/UNCDF/UN Women side event confirmed that policymakers have a key role to play in integrating a gender perspective in science, technology and innovation. To harness the full potential of science and technology for development, Governments must ensure that women have equal access to science and technology knowledge and skills, that they participate equally in developing and applying knowledge, and that research content and technology development and deployment respond to the needs of both women and men.