Today, we celebrate the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, a day celebrated annually on February 11 following a resolution put forward by Malta and adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 2015. 

This year’s theme focuses on ‘Investment in Women and Girls in Science for Inclusive Green Growth’. This must start from a broad vision that converges on the need to progress towards gender equality. We cannot afford to miss out on the contributions of half the world’s population. We cannot build the future we want and achieve gender equality without the full participation of women.

Throughout the years, a number of initiatives were adopted which were aimed at addressing gender inequalities in order to safeguard and promote equal opportunities for all. They did so by supporting equal economic independence, such as the provision of free childcare, before and after school services, the Maternity Leave Fund, the in-work benefit, and the tapering of social benefits scheme.

These measures not only facilitate the reconciliation of work and family life, but also reinforce society’s awareness on the importance of equal opportunities for women and men in employment.

Moreover, such measures contributed to a significant increase of 15.8 per cent in the female employment rate between 2013 and 2018. The next step is to break the glass ceiling and facilitate the equal representation of women in leadership positions.

Women face considerable challenges paving their way in the spheres of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), in particular through the stereotypes they face which begin from an early age, leading girls and boys to follow traditional roles.

We cannot afford to miss out on the contributions of half the world’s population

In Malta, the majority of University graduates are women, however, a degree of gender segregation in University courses is evident. Graduates from the Faculty of Education and the Faculty of Health Sciences were predominantly female, while graduates from the Faculty of Engineering and the Faculty of Information and Communication Technology were predominantly male.

Despite a slight increase in the percentage of women in almost all courses with a male majority, this is clearly not enough, and we need to work harder to address the barriers preventing women and girls from entering these fields. We also know that despite women forming the majority of undergraduates, they remain outnumbered among those following doctoral studies.

Gender segregation in education is also present at MCAST, with female students over-represented in the Institute of Community Services and under-represented in the Institute of Engineering and Transport and the Institute of Information and Communication Technology.

It is also notable that there is a lack of female role models in the STEM fields, which also acts as an impediment for aspiring STEM professionals – a contributing factor to the gender gap.

In order to end this digital divide and achieve full and equal access to and participation in science for women and girls, we need to eliminate gender stereotypes, and empower young girls in the classroom and young women at the workplace to make their own choices according to their individual aspirations and abilities.

This government is working on launching the first national Strategy and Action Plan addressing Gender Equality and Gender Mainstreaming where we shall push for further training and mentoring programmes for women interested in science and technology fields.

This will provide training to STEM teachers in gender-responsive pedagogy and classroom management in order to create safe and inclusive STEM learning environments and promote uptake of these subjects among female students.

It will enhance mentoring, apprenticeships and career counselling to ensure a fair and equal representation of female students on STEM studies and careers. We must ensure that all girls and women can set the pace for new innovations and help drive a truly sustainable and equitable alternative economy.

On the celebration of this Day, I encourage and support women and girls to achieve their full potential across the STEM sector. We need to do more, and we need to do it faster if we are to achieve a good gender balance in the near future.

I will work hard to have greater investments in STEM education for all women and girls as well as greater and equal opportunities for their careers and longer-term professional advancement so that all can benefit from their ground-breaking future contributions. The world needs science and science needs women and girls.

Edward Zammit Lewis is Minister for Justice, Equality and Governance.

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