Around the World, Girls in STEM are Overcoming Obstacles

Three girls building a robot

Recently, the ONE Campaign, which is dedicated to ending poverty around the world, published a report entitled The Toughest Places For A Girl To Get An Education. They listed the ten countries in which girls are the least likely to go to school, nine of which are in Africa:

  1. South Sudan
  2. Central African Republic
  3. Niger
  4. Afghanistan
  5. Chad
  6. Mali
  7. Guinea
  8. Burkina Faso
  9. Liberia
  10. Ethiopia

They note that all of these countries have many common factors in what is preventing girls from receiving education: they are among the poorest countries in the world, over half of girls in these countries tend to be married before they reach the age of 18, and on average one in four girls tend to be child laborers.

But the ONE Campaign also sees hope, as the countries’ economic standings don’t necessarily mean that there is no hope for girls. For example, “Burundi has the world’s lowest national income per capita at $286 USD but it outperforms 18 other wealthier countries” when it comes to girls’ education.

The report also highlights Nigeria, which is not in the top ten but has distinct regional differences: “Nigeria ranked as the 27th toughest place for girls to get an education. [. . .] In Nigeria’s South-South geopolitical zone, 5% of girls have never been to school, whereas this figure increases more than 10-fold (to 52%) in the North East.”

What is being done in countries like Nigeria to ensure girls go to school? Around the world, technology is becoming a major force in helping girls advance in the education and in growing tech industries.

In August, The Guardian reported on Nigeria’s tech boom, and how women are emerging as a growing force in the industry. One of the women in the article, Ire Aderinokun, “the author of web development blog, a front-end developer and Nigeria’s first female Google Developer Expert,” first found her interest in coding through playing Neopets, and is now funding scholarships for women pursuing “nanodegrees” in programming.

A team of Cambodian girls recently competed in the Technovation Challenge, in which female teams must build an app that addresses a UN Development Goal:

The video highlights that “most of the Cambodia team come from underprivileged backgrounds, but had support from teachers, mentors, and family.” Having this kind of support is especially crucial in encouraging girls such as those from Cambodia to pursue STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education and training. In countries where primary to higher education is already difficult to obtain for girls, and where there is pressure to pursue family and marriage over education, having encouragement from one’s family and teachers can help young girls to overcome challenges they will face in both building confidence and attaining goals.

You may also recall news reports surrounding this past summer’s international robotics competition in Washington, DC. Afghanistan notably sent a team of five girls, and the Gambia had a co-ed team with two girls. The Afghanistan team’s organizer, Roya Mahboob, stressed how the competition helps the girls experience the world outside of their family and immediate community: "This environment of working together to solve robotics problems gives them the feeling that they can do something much greater." The teenage girls from the Gambia—where, according to NPR, “about 20 percent of the country's researchers are female, […] better than Saudi Arabia and Nepal and comparable to the Netherlands (24 percent) and France (26 percent)”—hope that their experience will aid them in encouraging more girls in their country to pursue a future in STEM.