Marking the International Women’s Day

08 Mar 2011

Today the world is celebrating the 100th anniversary for the International Women Day.

It is also the first International Women’s Day for UN Women, created by the UN General Assembly on 2 July 2010.

Today we celebrate the significant progress that has been achieved around the world, including in Bahrain, through deliberate and determined efforts in advocacy, practical action and enlightened policy making. Yet, women still lag behind in all facets of life.

The priority theme this year for the Commission on the Status of Women is “Access and participation of women and girls in education, training, science and technology, including for the promotion of women’s equal access to full employment and decent work.”

UN Secretary General in his statement on the occasion noted that “Although the gender gap in education is closing, there are wide differences within and across countries, and far too many girls are still denied schooling, leave prematurely or complete school with few skills and fewer opportunities. He also mentioned that “Cell phones and the Internet, for example, can enable women to improve the health and well-being of their families, take advantage of income-earning opportunities, and protect themselves from exploitation and vulnerability. Access to such tools, backed up by education and training, can help women to break the cycle of poverty, combat injustice and exercise their rights.”

Education is a basic human right. It is also a key driver of economic growth and social change. Through education, women are better equipped to face development challenges and hence more empowered.

In recent years, significant progress has been achieved in women’s and girls’ equal access to education at all levels. But this achievement remains restricted in many parts of the world, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, Western Asia and Southern Asia. There are some disturbing facts.

Globally:

  • The ratio of girls’ to boys’ enrolment has steadily improved, reaching 97 girls per 100 boys at primary level, 96 girls per 100 boys at secondary level and 108 women per 100 men at tertiary level, in 2008.

  • In 2007, 72 million children of primary-school age were out of school, 54 percent of whom were girls. Women make up nearly two thirds of the world’s 759 million illiterate adults.

  • At the tertiary level, women now dominate in some sub-fields of science, particularly life sciences and social sciences. Less progress has been made in engineering. In 2007, the global median share of female university students was 21 percent in engineering, manufacturing and construction.

  • Female labour force participation was estimated to be 52.6 percent in 2008, compared with a male participation rate of 77.5 percent. On average, across 121 countries with available data, women account for 29 percent of researchers, and only 15 percent of countries have achieved gender parity.

Access to education; however is not the only concern and addressing it alone is not enough. It is imperative to improve the quality of education and its relevance to the labor market; through measures such as revising school curricula and prioritizing professional development of teachers.

Women must be empowered to gain access to decent work through proactive measures to facilitate transition from school to work; such as job search training and gender-sensitive social protective schemes. We know as a fact that while women share of university graduates is on the rise and in some cases, including in Bahrain, higher than men; their share in the job market is significantly lower. This not only is a women’s right issue, but a loss to human development and economic growth of nations and societies.

 

The underutilization of Women’s innovation potential is another concern. To benefit their societies, empowering women to fully contribute to science and technology knowledge and production must become a priority.

 

Bahrain has made notable progress with regard to women access to education

  • At the Primary and Secondary levels there are roughly equal numbers of male verses female students.

  • Female students at the secondary level specialising in Science far outnumber male students.

  • Females do not have access to Industrial or Vocational Training at the secondary level, restricting their opportunities at the tertiary level.

  • Female students / graduates outnumber males in universities; however they are underrepresented in vocational courses (e.g. Bahrain Training Institute).

  • For the 4th Quarter 2010, women made up 32.7% of the total Bahraini labour force – 45% in Public Sector Employment vs. 55% in the Private Sector.

  • Within the Public Sector, females are overrepresented in the Health, Education and Social Development Ministries.

  • Within the Public Sector, females are significantly underrepresented in the National Oil and Gas, Municipalities Affairs & Agriculture, Transportation, and Electricity and Water Ministries.

 

I wish to re-emphasize that there is a lot to be done; especially at the policy level. Governments have a responsibility to ensure that national and international research agenda and innovation priorities benefit women and men equally. The international community can help stimulate innovation for underserved populations, for instance by organizing competitions for grant-making programmes that focus attention on women’s needs, or by creating partnerships to help stakeholders pool funds and learn from each other’s experiences.

The challenges facing our world today, including achievement of MDGs, cannot be solved without active and full and equal participation of women, especially in the areas of science and technology.

Thank you for joining us here today and good luck to all.