UNESCO’s work in the area of girls and science education was the focus of Conversations with Exceptional Women, an event sponsored by the Friends of the San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women and featuring Director-General Irina Bokova today. The Director-General spoke of family as the first source of inspiration, but that educational structures need to be strengthened and gender awareness promoted to ensure that girls have access to the levers that will trigger the opportunities leading ultimately to careers in science.
UNESCO programs, such as 10,000 Principals with the Varkey-GEMS foundation, which provides gender sensitivity training in Kenya and Lesotho for educators, along with partnerships with corporations such as Proctor & Gamble, which supports an education program for as many as 40,000 women in Senegal, as well as the U.S.-UNESCO Global Partnership for Girls’ and Women’s Education, which was launched in May 2011 point to UNESCO’s activities that enrich and empower women around the world.
On the other side of the spectrum, the L’Oreal-UNESCO for Women in Science Awards has successfully raised awareness about the seminal work of women scientists. In 2009 the Nobel was awarded to Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn of the United States and Dr. Ada Yonath of Israel for their work in Physiology or Medicine, and Chemistry, respectively. The year before, they had won the L’Oreal-UNESCO award.
Still, Mme. Bokova raised concerns and stunned the gathering of more than 100 attendees when she stated some of the challenges that must be overcome, including the fact that women still represent two-thirds of the world’s adult illiterate population of 796 million.
The Baum Foundation was integral in organizing this event.