International Women's Day 2024- "Invest in Women: Accelerate Progress"

March 8, 2024

In February, we celebrated International Day of Women and Girls in Science which was an opportunity to advocate for the critical role women and girls play in science and technology communities. As we approach March 8th “International Women’s Day” we acknowledge this day as one that serves as a reminder of the importance of inclusivity and gender equality in all industries. This year’s theme “Invest in Women: Accelerate Progress” is timely and fitting to our work under the SISSTEM Project, and what it represents.

Historically, women have been underrepresented within the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) because of gender stereotypes that often portray STEM as male-dominated. The absence of visible female role models in industries such as STEM can make it difficult for young women to envision themselves in these careers, the demanding nature of some STEM careers, coupled with traditional gender roles, can make it challenging for women to balance family responsibilities with work commitments. According to a report from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, less than 30% of the world’s researchers are women. The report identifies female gender gaps in the authorship of research papers, patents on inventions, and publications.

In Aruba, the European Union (EU) has made it possible for the Government (GoA), jointly with the University of Aruba (UA), to take tangible action and lead the way by implementing the Sustainable Island Solutions through Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (SISSTEM) programme, an initiative which the EU has supported with 7,3000 Euros in funds. The objective of the programme is to educate a new generation of engineers and scientists, policymakers, and entrepreneurs, who will have a profound knowledge of STEM subjects in a sustainability context, and who can apply this knowledge in the setting of a small island state, like Aruba and the Caribbean in general. Moreover, research is currently being conducted by 5 master's students, 9 PhD candidates and 1 postdoctoral researcher on a wide range of sustainability topics.

Women, whether in science or otherwise are real agents of change. They are already helping countries to accelerate the achievement of all SDGs, taking the example of the SISSTEM programme, where already 37.5% of the students are female.

One of these students is Alexandra Ulacio; a 3rd-year SISSTEM student in the Technology and Engineering program. She is currently working on a project named UINI, which stands for water in the Arawak Language of the indigenous people in Aruba. Situated at the University of Aruba, UINI is an air-to-water generator. Its droplet-inspired design embodies a process driven by osmosis to capture moisture from the air. Through condensation and filtration stages, UINI converts this captured moisture into potable water. This is particularly vital in Aruba, where traditional water production heavily relies on energy-intensive desalination methods, contributing to environmental concerns. UINI ‘s unique approach not only provides an eco-friendly alternative but also signifies a shift away from fossil fuel dependence.

Unlocking the potential of women and girls is key to tackling sustainability challenges with innovative solutions and fresh perspectives. UNDP stands firmly behind empowering women as leaders and changemakers. Likewise, the EU is committed to promoting gender equality in research and innovation and to better integrating the gender dimension in these projects.

Let us leverage International Women’s Day to unite and accelerate progress. By working together, we can bridge the gender gaps, create gender-equal working environments where all talents can thrive, and unlock a brighter, more sustainable future for all.