In the United States, August 26 is known as Women’s Equality Day. We commemorate this day in 1920, as it marks when the 19th Amendment granted women the fundamental right to vote. The 19th Amendment was one step towards ensuring equality for all and underscored our common belief that when women do better, we all do better.
The United States works to advance gender equality at home and across the world. Through our foreign policy, diplomatic engagement, and programs, the State Department is helping women overcome unique challenges holding them back from full and meaningful participation in society. For example, we promote the role of women entrepreneurs in advancing economic growth and investment between the United States and sub-Saharan Africa. We also facilitate discussions across Latin America on the transformative role of technology in combatting gender-based violence and empowering survivors. We continue to address critical factors that impact a girls’ risk for early marriage such as access to education and equal opportunities.
This year, the State Department joined efforts with other federal agencies to highlight women in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). These are areas where women have been historically underrepresented and continue to face challenges that disproportionately affect women. In particular, women in STEM drive innovation to address critical challenges communities face worldwide. Within the State Department, women in STEM apply their technical skills to promote our top priority to create a more safe and secure world: from female security engineering officers within the Diplomatic Security Service to regional energy advisors promoting energy diplomacy for greater access to reliable, sustainable, and affordable supplies of energy. Women scientists, engineers, and STEM experts from several federal agencies recently shared their personal careers and advice with this year’s TechGirls participants from the Middle East and North Africa, to show how they are using STEM in public service.
By highlighting these women’s stories, future generations of girls and young women are encouraged to break gender stereotypes, pursue STEM careers, and become innovators and leaders. As Tapiwa, a young participant from the recent Women in Science (WiSci) Girls STEAM (STEM plus “A” for art and design) camp in Malawi, reflected:
“The WiSci camp has inspired me to be much more than I ever planned to be. This camp has taught many of us girls to own ourselves and to view ourselves positively and not in the way that other people tell us to be and I think that is where our power comes from. Gender stereotypes is a real issue in our communities and may stop girls like me from pursuing careers in STEAM. I know I have more to learn but for now, at least I’m assured that this is something I want to help solve in my school, home and community.”
The State Department also empowers international women leaders in STEM. For example, a new exchange program inspired by the award-winning film Hidden Figures will bring 50 women global leaders who represent “hidden talent” in their home countries to the United States in October 2017. The women participating in the Hidden No More International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) will cultivate relationships with their American counterparts and examine women’s contributions to STEM through research and development, education and teaching, leadership, and public policy formation.
In November 2017, the United States and India will co-host the Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) in Hyderabad, India, under the theme “Women First, Prosperity for All.” This will be an opportunity to elevate the role of women entrepreneurs as innovators and promote diversity, especially in the tech industry.
Women’s Equality Day serves as a reminder of the pioneering efforts from the suffragist movement, which paved the way for women to fully participate at all levels of society. Whether casting a vote at the ballot box or developing code to drive technological innovation, women are continuing to break down barriers and pave the way to a brighter future for all. Supporting women’s participation and leadership in STEM is just one way the State Department promotes gender equality and inclusion of women and girls. By advancing women’s rights and integrating gender equality in our foreign policy, we are honoring the spirit behind Women’s Equality Day every day.
About the Author: Aldrinana Leung serves in the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues at the U.S. Department of State.
Editor's Note: This entry also appears in the U.S. Department of State's publication on Medium.com.
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