As part of our #IWD2021 blog series, Ideja Bajra discusses the need to encourage and celebrate more women in STEM.
Women today have an opportunity to enlighten the way forward for humanity. Emerging from the darkest corners of historical suppression, under-representation and lack of participation in civil society, women have had a long journey so far. Women’s formidable presence in the business, fashion, and TV world, but also the creative industries today, is a force to be reckoned with. Yet there is still a huge gender gap no matter what field we enter or level of educational attainment we achieve.
Now, this is through no fault of our own. For centuries and centuries, women were discriminated against based upon their gender. And as a result, we were made to feel inadequate and incredibly left out. After so many years of oppression, a few powerful women managed to step out of the cage, predestined to keep them permanently detached from society, and finally spoke up. Rules were broken. Boundaries were stepped on. Lines were erased. If it weren’t for these influential figures (whose stories are finally becoming household tales), we as women would not be where we are now.
International Women’s day is most definitely a means of celebrating the unspoken and hidden successes of women. No success should be made invalid. Whether that means raising children, earning your first wage, or discovering the COVID vaccine, it all matters.
However, I wish to explore the world of women in STEM, or rather, the lack of. Despite countless efforts from non-profits, schools and institutions, the gender gap still remains the main issue. Men still continue to dominate a large majority of STEM fields. Take a look at the influential figures in STEM history commonly spoken about. Yes, they are mainly old white men. This is slowly starting to change with the voices of women being uncovered, but it’s still too late in many cases. Take Rosalind Franklin as an example. She was an English Chemist and X-ray Crystallographer who was utterly robbed of the Nobel Prize for her discovery of the DNA structure, from her two co-workers; Crick and Watson.  To make matters even worse, they consistently made sexist remarks whenever they were around her.
This is gradually being turned around, with world leaders being lobbied by activists, students, and professionals alike to change the way they treat women. Now, this might be with the entry of the 21st century and the boom of social media making it harder to hide information from the general public and making it easier to voice our opinions about topics important to us. But we can still do so much more.
A starting point could include creating projects that consistently highlight the contribution of women in STEM, not just for one or two days. Women such as Ellen Ochoa (the first Hispanic woman to go to space on a nine-day mission), Katherine Johnson (an African American space scientist and mathematician) , Alice Ball (an African American chemist who developed a cure for leprosy)  and many more deserve to have their stories shared daily. Where this is not possible, the stories of many women in STEM could be incorporated into films like Hidden Figures, Contact and Interstellar (absolute favourites of mine), as the production is bound to leave a lasting mark on the audience.
Saying that, more needs to be done for the newer generations to promote STEM as an attractive career path. Children aren’t born sexist or racist. It is a societal issue. Therefore, if young children are raised with the idea that STEM is very much also for girls, then there will be an accelerated rate of women in STEM as generations grow. But the only way this idea could be reinforced is through the education system, starting with primary schools. This could be through a more hands-on approach to teaching (experiments and engaging activities), various different school trips to areas that tell the stories of these important women in STEM, or simply just reading books and talking about underrepresented groups in STEM and telling their honest stories and hardships they underwent to achieve all we have today.
It’s time we said thank you. Thank you to the tireless effort put into raising the next generation. Thank you for the incredible inventions and discoveries where so much sweat and tears were poured into. But most of all, thank you for never giving up, and for continuing to do what you do, whether that includes fighting for what you believe in or working 18-hour shifts. Thank you to all the women around the world.
- Rosalind Franklin: A Crucial Contribution https://www.nature.com/scitable/topicpage/rosalind-franklin-a-crucial-contribution-6538012/ [Accessed 23 February 2020]
- The Untold Stories of Women in Science and Technology https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/women-in-stem [Accessed 25 February 2020]
- History of Scientific Women: Alice Ball https://scientificwomen.net/women/ball-alice-121 [Accessed 25 February 2020]
Ideja Bajra is a 17-year-old STEM activist, and Founder of Based In Science; a non-profit that aims to encourage more youth from Kosovo and the UK into STEM-related careers. Since the age of 7, she has aspirations to become a scientist, and wishes to fulfil that dream by studying biochemistry at university this year.
Aside from running a non-profit, she is a student at a Sixth Form in the UK, studying Biology, Chemistry, and Physics for A Levels. Ideja has since co-authored a featured article about BAME women in STEM for the Biochemist magazine, as well as having written a book review for the Biochemist, and looks forward to writing many more in the future.
Her Instagram and Twitter handle is @idejabajra.