Promoting equal access to science for women and girls, the International Day of Women and Girls in Science (IDWGS), celebrated on 11 February, is implemented by the United Nations (UN) under the leadership of the Royal Academy of Sciences International Trust (RASIT). The theme of this year’s Fourth Commemoration of The International Day of Women and Girls in Science was “Investment in Women and Girls in Science for Inclusive Green Growth”. Held across two days at the UN Headquarters in New York, as this observance rapidly increases in size, scope and impact, we were extremely fortunate to attend high level panels and conferences seeking to bring these issues into mainstream discourse, and identify implementation gaps. We observed senior women collaborating to create action plans, and had the opportunity, as girls in science, to co-create our own outcome document.
At 10 years old, the newest and youngest member of our Girls in Science International Platform, Olivia Cohn will always treasure her warm welcome into the Women and Girls in Science community: “I felt like I found a new home outside of my home! And I was so grateful to be welcome in that community”, adding, “I’m usually shy. But the minute I walked into the room and Princess Dr. Nisreen smiled and gave me a huge hug, I felt welcomed, fearless and excited to meet other amazing girls from all over the world.” Olivia enjoyed participating in the Girls in Science panel where she shared about her ingenious invention to beat car sickness, joined her new colleagues for sparky debate over lunches, and was especially active responding to the High Level panels with intelligence. Clearly absorbing it all, at every level, she says, “I think the greatest part of the whole thing was getting together with girls who also love science and being able to share our stories and help each other. People were from different countries and different backgrounds, all coming together with the relationship of love in STEM.”
Huaxuan Chen, from Canada, a leader on the platform, who co-chaired the Girls in Science panel, says her longstanding work for and involvement with Girls in Science 4 SDGs has piqued her interest in policy making and has helped her “understand the salience off policies for all aspects of societal development”. She adds, “before RASIT, I had never really connected with the UN. I’ve learned how I can play a role in this awesome movement of Women and Girls in Science, and how I can get involved to help many people around the world. It has been an incredible opportunity for me to interact with social justice, public policy, and science, all at the same time!”
Having travelled to the conference from Tenerife in Spain, Victoria Ballesteros Gonzalez also has many warm anecdotes to treasure and share, but says the biggest impression on her was during “the second day the day, with our panel, I was so excited and nervous at the same time, and I think everyone was, too. But the moment we entered our conference room, every nervousness disappeared. At the same time, I sensed that all the power of the future was in that small room. Then I started to look to all the faces because I was sure and I am sure that from there are going to go out the leaders of tomorrow. When we started the real panel and I could listen to the amazing girls in there I understood my feeling, the girls in the room irradiate the passion to change the world. It was absolutely amazing and all the girls motivate me to change my life and all the world!”
Lara Louise Bevan-Shiraz, our British teammate who lives in Bali, was in turn “inspired by Victoria’s app concept, which would bring career insights and opportunities to every girl”. Lara also gave an intervention at the Girls in Science panel, about the urgent imperative for socio-economic and gender diversity and opportunities in science and policymaking, and outlined a possible youth-led way forward: bringing people together and connecting the dots for the SDGs through interconnected global peacemaker spaces. She says, “I enjoyed attending the conferences, and the one session I couldn’t attend due to being in the panel, I watched online after. I was especially inspired by this third panel [Investing in Science Education for Shaping Society’s Future], and the speaker Dr. Selin Yildiz Nielsen, of Glocally Connected [a non-profit humanitarian organisation providing long-term assistance to refugee families both globally and locally], who reiterated that it’s a collaborative effort and not something we can do alone, and how she said ‘the DNA of activism is data, narrative, action. We have the data. We have the stories. Now is the time for Action.’ I feel her words are very apt: that talking has taken us a step in the right direction but right now we need to pressingly move towards urgent action”.
At the end of the two days, we gathered to collaborate on drafting an outcome document. Julie Levey, from New York, says she loved this “because in addition to the amazing experience of drafting an official UN document, I was also able to get to know and hear the perspective of students from different countries. It was amazing to hear about their experiences and daily lives”. Julie also moderated the opening high level panel, an experience she found “amazing and inspirational”. She adds, “I especially enjoyed hearing and commenting on the anecdotes of incredible women and men from around the world and getting to meet many ambassadors.”
In addition to the conferences, we were extremely fortunate to be treated to an early screening of Paramount Pictures’ new movie Wonder Park, in the UN’s elegant Trusteeship Council Chamber. Both the movie, where a young girl’s imagination comes to life, and the venue itself were inspiring. Within this iconic room is a teal wood statue of a girl reaching up towards a bird, which hovers with outspread wings above her head. Henri Starcke’s sculpture aptly watching over the many young STEM enthusiasts gathered, symbolising hope and humanity.
With love and gratitude, from all the Girls in Science 4 SDGs team, both those fortunate to attend and those watching online, who have worked equally hard behind the scenes, especially Sthuthi Satish, who was due to co-chair the panel and who was unfortunately unable to attend.