UNDP Kyrgyzstan empowers women in STEM to excel in the future of work
February 11, 2023
“We can all do our part to unleash our world’s enormous untapped talent – starting with filling classrooms, laboratories, and boardrooms with women scientists”UN Secretary-General António Guterres
The United Nations General Assembly declared February 11 the “International Day of Women and Girls in Science” in 2015. On this meaningful occasion, I would like to highlight the efforts of UNDP Kyrgyzstan in promoting gender equality in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), as well as to explore how we can move forward with our collaborative effort to be future-ready.
How STEM shapes the future of work?
STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields are playing an increasingly important role in the future of work. Despite the job losses resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, demand for workers in STEM fields has increased, and it is expected to grow even faster in the future. According to the World Economic Forum’s “Future of Jobs Report” (2020), the work prospects in the Industry 4.0 (referring to the Fourth Industrial Revolution) will rely on STEM skills. It is estimated that 97 million new jobs may emerge, while 85 million jobs may be obsolete due to the rapid changes in the labor market.
For example, the advancement of technologies and innovation like generative artificial intelligence, 5G and the Internet of Things more broadly are generating entirely new jobs and increased need for skilled workers in data science, engineering and computer science. While jobs in the services and hospitality industries – typically dominated by women - become more obsolete due to automation, 90 percent of jobs in the near future will require STEM skills.
Are women being left behind in the new digital era?
STEM fields are still largely dominated by men, especially in decision-making, leadership roles. To be prepared for the future, it is crucial that we continuously RESKILL and UPSKILL ourselves. The future of work certainly will impact both men and women, but research has shown that 30-50 percent of women are less likely than men to use internet and technology for reskilling and upskilling.
In the context of Kyrgyzstan, this situation is concerning. Only one out of three girls has computer literacy (UNICEF, 2022). And only 31.1 percent of STEM graduates are girls (World Bank, 2018). Women and girls often lack the confidence to pursue STEM subjects and careers, due to social norms and systemic barriers in the society.
Compared to the impact of the 2008 global financial recession, the current economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 crisis is far more severe and is more likely to exacerbate the existing inequalities. According to the latest report from the World Economic Forum (WEF), we are moving backwards on the long road to gender equality. Now it will take 268 years to close the economic gender gap (WEF, 2021). How can we afford denying half of humanity the opportunity to succeed in the future of work?
If women are supported to pursue STEM degrees and professions, not only would their livelihoods improve, but economies would grow as well. It is critical that we all take action to accelerate our investment in women for the future of work!
Kyrgyz Government spoke out at the Global Summit 2022
In September 2022, during the high-level week of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, the Kyrgyz Government delivered the National Statement of Commitment of the Kyrgyz Republic to transform the education system in the period up to 2030. This commitment includes investing in “learning and skills for life, work and sustainable development” as well as “Digital Learning”.
Furthermore, the global UNDP policy on “Gender Equality in Digitalization” emphasizes the importance of ensuring equal participation in STEM fields and technological innovation. This aligns with the efforts of the Kyrgyz government to empower women and girls in STEM, ensuring that they have equal opportunities to succeed in the future of work.
Two frameworks guide our STEM initiatives
There are two frameworks guiding the design and implementation of our works on STEM:
Theory of Change on women empowerment:
- Providing access to resources: including education, finance, and technology, as well as access to networks and information on job opportunities in STEM fields.
- Building an enabling environment: creating a supportive atmosphere in which women and girls feel encouraged and empowered to pursue careers in STEM, without facing discrimination or barriers to advancement. This also applies to policy-making, which should encourage greater investment in women and girls, and legislation that enforces anti-discrimination laws.
- Offering capacity building: including training, mentorship, and other support to help women and girls develop the skills and knowledge they need to excel in STEM and in the jobs of the future.
By integrating these three components, we can ensure that women and girls have the resources, support, and skills they need to thrive in the digital era. Only with a comprehensive approach can we truly move the needle on gender equality.
2) The “Leaky Pipeline” framework focuses on addressing the systemic barriers that prevent women and girls from participating in STEM fields throughout the entire educational and professional journey: starting from basic education and continuing through higher education and the labor market, to leadership positions. The first time I learnt about this concept was from the UNDP’s regional conference: STEM4ALL accelerating gender equality. Simply increasing the number of women and girls studying STEM subjects is NOT enough to ensure their further success. It is important to address the barriers and obstacles at each stage of the “pipeline” with a systemic approach.
What has UNDP Kyrgyzstan invested in STEM?
Understanding this systemic approach in our theory of change, UNDP Kyrgyzstan has achieved the following in 2022:
1. We work hard to build a STEM Community by bringing stakeholders from different fields to one table for continuous exchange of practices. UNDP plays the role of engagement facilitator to share the ownership with all key stakeholders. To date, there are 32 STEM organizations committed to developing the STEM community in Kyrgyzstan, which is under the umbrella of the regional UNDP & UNICEF platform STEM4ALL.
2. We actively promote STEM role models through storytelling campaigns. By showcasing the achievements of STEM role models, we aim to break down the stereotypes and misconceptions surrounding women in STEM and encourage women to pursue their passions in these fields. Through storytelling campaigns, we hope to create a more inclusive and diverse STEM community in Kyrgyzstan, where women and girls can realize their dreams and potential and make a positive impact in their communities and the world.
3. We conducted a needs assessment of women in STEM in the post-COVID-19 context in Kyrgyzstan, and the final report will be published in April 2023. In addition to surveys and key informant interviews, we organized a design thinking workshop with STEM community members to validate our findings, as well as to co-design solutions (check out this story):
We utilized the social network analysis approach to generate a mapping of STEM stakeholders, allowing us to identify better partnership opportunities to scale our impact. The full report will be accessible in English, Kyrgyz, and Russian languages in April 2023 (stay in tuned on www.undp.org/kyrgyzstan).
We identified three main problems faced by STEM women:
1) Low level of awareness among stakeholders about the importance of diversity in STEM leads to the limited participation of women and girls in STEM;
2) Women and girls are not confident in their capabilities to excel in STEM;
3) The gap between existing gender policies and its practical implementation is halting the progress of women’s participation in STEM.
Our research aimed not only at analyzing the problems, but also at co-designing solutions with STEM stakeholders.
4. UNDP Accelerator Lab in Kyrgyzstan was selected by UNDP’s Digital X programme supported by the Government of Japan. We are developing a digital mentorship platform for women in STEM. The platform is expected to launch in April 2023.
Upon reflection of our work in 2022, we have developed an action plan for 2023 (research findings) and identified partners with whom we want to work (STEM community), and how we need to work (the mentorship program with solution-based experiments).
At present, we are working on the report publication, developing the mentorship digital platform, designing the mentorship program and the experimentation portfolio. In April 2023, UNDP Kyrgyzstan would like to invite all to participate in a STEM conference, where we plan to release the report, present key findings, and launch the mentorship platform. There will be a six-month long mentorship program and experimentation to test the proposed solutions. At the end of the year, we will celebrate our achievements, share our learnings, and showcase best practices.
Scaling from Kyrgyzstan to the world
UNDP Kyrgyzstan provides access to digital opportunities not only in Kyrgyzstan, but also at the regional and the global platforms:
In 2022, UNDP Kyrgyzstan helped scale a local start-up “BalaTech” to the global market. Through the joint support of the UNDP Chief Digital Office and the Government of Japan, more than 52,000 youngsters across 57 countries (and now 81 countries) have acquired programming skills. It is generally acknowledged that girls are underrepresented in programming Olympiads and other STEM competitions. We provided targeted outreach to girls in schools and communities. All learning modules, marketing content, and communication languages were ensured with a gender-sensitive approach. STEM women were invited to speak out in a series of training sessions before the Olympiad took place. Finally with UNDP’s support, 41 percent of BalaTech platform users were girls!
There is the regional platform STEM4ALL, where we regularly invite women in STEM from Europe and Central Asia. Last year UNDP Istanbul Regional Hub administered the BOOST accelerator programme for social impact innovation for women-led start-ups and organizations. Two of the eight finalists were from Kyrgyzstan, namely the “Kyrgyz Space Program” and “WeinCrypto”, and each was awarded US$10,000 each to scale their impact region-wide.
UNDP calls to launch the “STEM Moonshot”!
I would like to conclude my blog with the messages from the young women in the “Kyrgyz Space Program”. Who would have imagined that Kyrgyzstan would launch a satellite into space? Even more remarkable is that this space mission was created by an all-women team in STEM. They remarked that what’s even more important than launching a satellite is the social movement they are leading to inspire more women and girls to learn STEM, work on STEM, and dream big!
Inspired by many stories of women in STEM in Kyrgyzstan, the UNDP invites everyone to imagine the headline of tomorrow’s news in Kyrgyzstan. Shall we work together to launch a “STEM Moonshot”?!
For inquiries and partnership opportunities, please contact:
Jenny Jenish kyzy (Ensi Tszie), Head of Experimentation of Accelerator Lab UNDP, STEM advocate in Kyrgyzstan: email@example.com
Tiffany Sprague, UNDP-UNICEF STEM4ALL Platform Coordinator: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ainagul Abdrakhmanova, Communication Officer of the UNDP Kyrgyzstan: email@example.com
*I would like to extend my special thanks to Tiffany Sprague from STEM4ALL for providing valuable peer review of this blog.
Reference: “Moonshot” is a term used to describe a visionary and ambitious project, typically one with a goal of achieving a breakthrough or overcoming a difficult challenge. The term was originally used in reference to the Apollo program and the goal of landing a human on the moon, which was seen as a challenging and a near impossible feat at the time. The term has since been used to describe other similar audacious projects in various fields such as science, technology, and more.
STEM4ALL is a joint platform by UNDP and UNICEF in Europe and Central Asia dedicated to accelerating gender equality and the representation of women and girls in STEM to meet the demands of the future of work in the region. STEM4ALL targets a wide audience from women and girls to policy makers and the private sector. It is a virtual, public space for advocacy, research and news to promote gender equality and inclusion in STEM across the region and beyond.