Nishka Mathur is 15 years old and passionate about tech literacy for young people, especially girls, from disadvantaged communities. Over the last two and half years, she has designed and delivered coding workshops with 1,000 young people in her pursuit to open more doors for girls who dream of a career in STEM.
Having spent five years living in India and visiting a gender equality charity where my mum volunteered, I realised that teaching STEM skills to underprivileged girls could empower them financially, give them social autonomy and better their lives.
Inspired by the charity’s programmes that teach women economically desirable skills, I’ve spent the last three years designing and delivering coding workshops for young people, especially girls, in disadvantaged areas of the UK and India, as well as mentoring other young people to run their own coding clubs. After being chosen as a finalist for 2020 ‘Tech4Good Awards’ in the Education category, I’ve been able to crowdfund more than £3000 for equipment for schools in remote areas in India. This equipment has enabled them to start coding clubs which I am now mentoring online.
I love science and I enjoy the combination of logic and creativity that is involved in coding. Science provides answers to why things are the way they are, and it provides solutions for the problems humanity faces such as the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has demonstrated the critical role of female researchers in different stages of the fight against COVID-19 from advancing the knowledge on the virus, to developing techniques for testing, and finally to creating the vaccine to fight it.
At the same time, the COVID-19 pandemic also had a significant negative impact on female scientists, particularly affecting those in the early stages of their career, which is contributing to widening the existing gender gap in science. According to research by PwC, there is a gender gap in STEM careers that starts from school; only 3% of girls choose science and tech as their first career option, compared to 15% of male students. In many areas there is a toxic mix of gender discrimination and poverty – girls and women often face misogyny because of prejudice against their gender: women are either told that they cannot study science because they are thought of as less capable, or they are made to feel less confident about their abilities due to subconscious prejudice.
But careers in science open so many doors for disadvantaged young girls and women, putting them on a path to financial independence and confidence. According to a report from the House of Commons, 90% of jobs now need some level of digital literacy and this will only increase in the post-pandemic era. Young women who take up science and technology are therefore more likely to find work, allowing them to become economically self-reliant.
Against this backdrop, it feels more important than ever to advocate for more girls and women in science. The best way to change the gender imbalance in the industry is by educating everyone about the importance of equality and the incredible contributions that women make to science. For example,
Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier who recently shared the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. By highlighting female role models and celebrating their achievements, I hope we can inspire a more diverse and inclusive environment in science. It is also equally important for men to be champions of women’s rights by addressing acts of everyday sexism, which can be extremely demeaning and demoralising, even if they are subconscious.
Now more than ever, I think that young people should be able to share their views on important issues such as the gender gap in science, as by doing so we can work towards creating a future society that is better for all.
So, on International Day of Women and Girls in Science today, let’s change the narrative. Celebrate women and girls who are leading innovation and call for actions to remove all barriers that hold them back. Join the conversation with #WomenInScience on social media.