Investing in Women Trailblazers of the Future

Science and gender equality are vital for reaching the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and in recent years much has been done to inspire women and girls to study and work in STEM. As OSI has pointed out in previous blogpost, there would be...

Science and gender equality are vital for reaching the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and in recent years much has been done to inspire women and girls to study and work in STEM. As OSI has pointed out in previous blogpost, there would be beneficial outcomes for the whole society if we invest in women trailblazers of tomorrow. We need more female role models in today’s society, especially in the STEM-fields where female participation is lagging behind. We can all play a crucial role in promoting female role models. By sharing stories (both good and bad), role models are created. And by doing that, we get an idea of all innumerable possibilities out there – which should be equally reachable for women as for men.

During the State visit to India in December 2019, Their Majesties of Sweden attended a Tekla workshop and dialogue in Mumbai. The event was organized by the Swedish Institute (SI) and KTH Royal Institute of Technology in collaboration with the Atal Innovation Mission, Niti Aayog – our partners on the Indian side. The objective of the activity was to inspire girls to enter the field of science and technology. Dr Caroline Dahl, Senior Researcher at the Research Institutes of Sweden (RISE), who was leading the workshop was very pleased with the outcome.

“All girls were curious and keen to understand, with the steak of independence necessary to make technology their own”, Dr Caroline Dahl said in an interview with OSI.

For those who are not familiar, Tekla Festival was initiated by KTH and SI but was launched as a global initiative by the recording artist and feminist role model Robyn in 2015. Reaching the global arena is a way to embrace Sweden’s feminist foreign policy and furthermore inspire other countries to follow the same path. We hope that as a result of the workshop and dialogue, Sweden has inspired more girls to become the scientists of tomorrow.

“Thankfully there are excellent female STEM instructors and role models encouraging dads, girl schools and camps where girls make friends to create their own parallel universes. Hopefully they hold on to that supportive environment when they enter science and innovation and change the culture for the better. Only then will the world reach its full potential”, mentioned Dr Caroline Dahl.

Through this two-day event in Mumbai, we could reach out to 45 girls aged between of 11-15 years. Ms Srimathy Kesan, CEO and founder of the organization Space Kidz India was one of the speakers at the workshop. She delivered an inspirational talk based on her own experience, which was very well received by the girls.

“The children just loved and enjoyed the whole moment and in fact they started asking if they could be launching a satellite. I loved seeing the girls so enthusiastic and expressive”, Ms Srimathy Kesan remarked as OSI interviewed her.

To tell you a bit about her story, she went from an active teenager to a devoted homemaker when she got married at the age of 18 years. The lifestyle of a homemaker was not enough for her, so she got engaged in several different programs – and once she got introduced to space technology, she was completely enchanted! She started the organization ‘Space Kidz’ in 2010 and since then has been educating and inspiring children to pursue science through satellite building. Through producing three different types of satellites, which have been used by NASA, Ms Srimathy Kesan has become a role model for children to achieve their dreams. The future belongs to the youth, so working with children will help forming equality at an early age.

“Science has got no barriers. Sweden and India have a good relationship so we need to collaborate more. Conducting more and bigger workshops for girls will make a greater impact, Ms Srimathy Kesan said.

Ms Srimathy Kesan and TEKLA workshop participants. Photo by Fanny von Heland

The Indian Government is cognizant and is invested in funding initiatives to promote women in STEM. Department of Science and Technology (DST) has initiated the program VigyanJyoti as a dedicated program for female students to pursue careers in STEM. Department of Biotechnology (DBT) has a similar program running since about 20 years. It’s called BioCare and targets women who have been taking breaks from their science careers to build a family. The program offers grants to get their careers back on track.

“If they have some ideas and a mentor, they could submit a project to DBT, and we support them with grants. We get over 1000 applications for each call, of course we cannot support all of them, but we do support a big number of great women”, said Dr Kalaivani Ganesan at DBT.

She also points out “role models” as one essential key in the work on making the STEM fields more gender equal. There is clearly a need of more initiatives encouraging and empowering more girls to pursue science and more female science students to take on careers as scientists. A continued focus on role models is an important step towards visualizing a new and more gender equal future for the STEM-fields.

Dr. Kalaiwani Genesan. Photo by Emma Nilsson

But the work with gender equality must be present at every level in society at all ages.

Happy Women’s day!

Fanny, Leena, Emma and Mini