Marking International Women’s Day this year, King Abdullah Financial District (KAFD) Development and Management Company partnered with Mastercard, Misk Schools, UNESCO and UN Global Compact to launch a STEM education program, Girls4Tech, for young girls in the Kingdom.
The Girls4Tech initiative aims to inspire and motivate young girls in Saudi Arabia and the wider region to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
This year’s global theme for International Women’s Day on March 8 was digital innovation and technology for gender equality.
A panel discussion on the role of girls and women in STEM for economic growth and development was held on Wednesday at the KAFD.
A panel of experts shed light on the program and its importance.
“The program focuses on creating a more sustainable and inclusive digital economy which aligns with the UN Sustainable Development Goals and in particular, those pertaining to the quality of education, gender equality, decent work and economic growth,” said Ibrahim Al-Hilali, executive director of the
UN Global Compact network in Saudi Arabia, who also moderated the session.
The UN has predicted that greater numbers of women in STEM disciplines will see global gross domestic product rise by almost 25 percent, adding $28 trillion to the world economy.
“So we have got a big gap here that we need to address,” said Gautam Sashittal, CEO of KAFD DMC, told the panel.
Sashittal added that he has always believed in a work environment creating equal opportunity, diversity and inclusiveness.
He said that KAFD’s status among the world’s premier smart districts allows it to create opportunities for women to join STEM fields.
“You would be surprised at the number of women engineers that are out in the field of construction, not just architects,” said Sashittal.
According to UNESCO, fewer than one-third of women worldwide work in scientific research and development, said Al-Hilali.
Maria Medvedeva, vice president and country manager of Saudi Arabia & Bahrain at Mastercard, said that it is important to engage girls from a young age and nudge them toward other possibilities and fields.
Medvedeva said that her male coworkers and employers pushed her to the frontline, and are supporting and encouraging drivers of change.
Since she joined Mastercard four years ago, Medvedeva said that she was able to bring the ratio of female to male employees to about 43 percent.
She added that systemic challenges present another challenge that can halt girls from being interested in STEM fields.
“We need to break the boundaries of females and stigma toward these fields from the parents’ standpoint, that even we need to educate the parents more.”
Al-Hilali praised the efforts of MasterCard, as it has pledged to connect 25 million women worldwide by 2025 to technology training, digital tools, insights and solutions that will enable them to grow and scale businesses.
“Their commitments will undoubtedly have a significant impact on promoting women’s economic empowerment, reducing gender inequality and achieving sustainable development,” he said.
Dr. Steffen Sommer, director general of Misk Schools, said: “Knowledge development happening in Riyadh needs to be in the top 10 city economies in the world by 2030, so we have to make sure that you have that inclusive workforce that actually incorporates both men and women.”
Salah Khaled, UNESCO representative to the Gulf states and Yemen, said that the role of women in science and technology is a priority for each and every single one of the SDGs.
One of UNESCO’s flagship programs is with L’Oreal Paris, which promotes and supports women in sciences.
“We are happy and proud to be supporting 250 researchers through this partnership,” said Khaled.
Another program is the Open Science program which allows access and sharing of knowledge and information in the face of the digital divide.
Khaled said: “We work with governments of our member states to encourage women and girls to engage in scientific and STEM fields, but it has to start from the primary level and young ages.”