Throughout history, the field of science, STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) and STEAM (plus arts) have been dominated by men and for years and women have been under-represented on university courses and in occupations not only in the UK but throughout the world. Now, whilst women in the UK (unlike some countries), can be grateful that they have a right to an education and we have laws preventing discrimination based on gender, it is still true that data from UCAS, HESA and WISE campaigns show that only 35% of university science undergraduates are women. So there is still some way to go before women are fully represented in these professions.

Number of women students in higher education in core STEM subjects (2017/18)

The United Nations have identified gender equality as goal number 5 in their Sustainable Development Goals, and in 2015, they adopted a resolution setting up the first International Day of Women and Girls in Science. On Friday, February 10th 2023, everyone is invited to the 8th International Day of Women & Girls in Science to celebrate the work and achievements of visionary and remarkable women across the globe and throughout history.

There are four main agendas for the day:

  1. Be heard – people are encouraged to attend a free assembly discussing the issue at the UN Headquarters in New York, and whilst this may be a tall order for many, “never say never” is a good motto
  2. Pledge to equality – this is a call for businesses and related organisations to develop partnerships with the aim of empowering women and girls in science
  3. Join the global network – this strand aims to recognise the role of women in science as “agents of change in accelerating progress towards the sustainable development goals”
  4. Register events and activities – join in on Saturday February 11th to add your voice to the collective voice calling for equality in science

The focus this year is on how women and girls in science can contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals, and there is a large focus on sustainability in industry, clean energy and clean water supplies.

What does it all mean for early years settings?

Whilst some of these goals and ambitions are very much routed in United Nations ‘speak’, they are essentially asking for everyone to contribute what they can to help encourage more women and girls into science. And that can start in the early years with nurseries and settings lighting ‘fires of desire’ in young children to investigate the world around them, and to positively promote these aspects amongst girls.

What can you do in your setting?

This year, we have researched 3 women in science who have embodied, or currently embody the ideas being promoted that you can use as role models in your setting, telling their stories to the children and explaining how they have helped our world.

We’ve also come up with a simple experiment that you can do with the children to spark their imaginations and get them to ask questions about the world and how it works. We hope you like the ideas we’ve suggested, but you can always think of your own ways to celebrate the day in your setting by researching women in science and scientific experiments for early years.

Three amazing women in science

  1. Marie Curie (1867 – 1934) is one of only four people (and the only female) to have won a Nobel Prize twice; in 1903 for Physics for her work on isolating radium, and in 1911 for Chemistry for work on a way of measuring radioactivity. She became a Professor at Sorbonne University in Paris, France and her work led to radiation therapy which is used today to help people with cancer. You can see a children’s version of her story on YouTube here.
  2. Helen Sharman (1963 - ) was the first British woman into space. She studied Chemistry at Sheffield University and later gain a PhD at Birkbeck. Her chemical expertise helped perfect ice cream bars for Mars Confectionery. She later heard a radio advert saying, “Astronaut wanted – no experience necessary” and after being one of 13,000 applicants, she was chosen to be the first privately-funded British woman in space as part of Project Juno in May 1991. She later published a children’s book called “The Space Place: Making Sense of Science” in 1993 which could be used in your storytime sessions.
  3. Alice Roberts (1973 -) is an English biological anthropologist, biologist, television presenter and author who is Professor of Public Engagement in Science at the University of Birmingham. She trained as a medical doctor and has taken her passion for science to the masses through TV and books, as a presenter on “Time Team” and “Coast” amongst others and has been involved in the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures and you can here her talk about women and girls in science here.

We’ve focused on 3 amazing women, but there are many, many more you could talk about too.

An easy science experiment to do with your children (girls AND boys)

Melting ice

What you will need:

  • Some plastic food boxes
  • Ice cubes
  • Stopwatch or clock with
    second hand
  • Salt, sand, sugar, water
    (you can use other
    things too)
  • Pen and paper

The object of the experiment is to investigate the quickest way to melt an ice cube and free a trapped toy. Before the experiment, place some small plastic toys into an ice cube tray or similar sized containers, cover with water and freeze. When frozen, place the ice cubes and their frozen inhabitants into different containers and start the timer. Then add different things to the containers to see the effect on the ice. Leave one ice cube without anything to see how long it takes to melt at room temperature. Try adding:

  • Salt
  • Cold water
  • Hot water
  • Sand
  • Sugar

Remember to ask the children for their predictions first so that they can think about what might happen and come up with a hypothesis before you do the experiment. You could plot your results on a graph to show what melts ice the fastest.

Whatever you do to mark International Day of Women and Girls in Science, remember to send us your stories and pictures to marketing@parenta.com.

References and more information


Women in science in Scotland

Women in tech in Africa

Women in STEM statistics

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