Youth Bridging Science Gender Gaps in Mexico
Andrea, Carmen, Miroslava, and Sophie have created a venture to boost quality learning in science and technology fields.
The world has made great strides in ensuring equal employment rights for girls and boys. However, gender disparities in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) careers still markedly persist, despite similar achievement among children of girls and boys in these fields. Gender stereotypes around ‘women’s work’ still run rampant, with the gap beginning to show in education.
In Mexico, the path of a girl in STEM is marred with structural challenges and unequal opportunities. Negative stereotypes give rise to negative environments for women in STEM, leading to only 8% of women choosing a STEM-related career, according to the OECD.
A group of young women from Mexico involved with Generation Unlimited is now looking to change this! With the help of GenU, Andrea (25), Carmen (25), Miroslava (26), and Sophie (25), created a venture called ‘Femme & Stem’ to boost quality learning in science and technology for all girls—and they mean business!
Using cutting-edge tools like artificial intelligence, they provide resources for every child and adolescent to become proficient and stand out in STEM fields—resources that allow everyone to learn, build, reimagine and reinvent the world.
“Our mission is to empower girls, and also boys, in STEM areas and reduce the gender gap that currently exists in this field,” says Andrea, co-founder of the initiative.
The idea sprung to mind when Andrea seized the opportunity to participate in the Generation Unlimited Youth Challenge in Mexico. With many of the ‘Femme & Stem’ girls currently pursuing STEM careers, they were keenly aware of the need to find solutions to bridge the gender gap in Mexico and took matters into their own hands.
“Most jobs in the next 30 years will be related to science and technology,” says Andrea. “Yet, women in Mexico are told over and over again that their place is at home, in humanities or maybe social sciences or law. We are told that STEM is a realm that is meant for men and it is rare to see an environment where women are truly integrated into the scientific-technological universe.”
With this in mind, Andrea, Carmen, Miroslava, and Sophie created Erandi Aprende (Erandi Learns), a personalized interactive STEM e-learning education platform through which they encourage girls and women from an early age to pursue STEM fields and feel empowered to become agents of change as engineers, scientists, or technology specialists.
“We identified that girls start losing confidence in themselves and their abilities for STEM-related subjects as early as when they are 8 to 12 years old,” says Carmen, another member of the venture. “We believe that science and technology are for everyone and that it’s just a matter of being able to understand that both are present everywhere and that they are fun."
Erandi Aprende provides content in three distinct categories: learn, build and invent. Users can access videos, infographics and podcasts that teach STEM-related subjects. The platform also contains DIY tutorials that users can follow to build their own tech solutions at home using design thinking.
The platform’s avatar, Erandi, helps users navigate the platform and finds resources that are suitable for every user, linking their interests and hobbies with science, technology and everyday activities.
In 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic plowed through the world, it highlighted the importance of making science and technology content in Spanish more available to the public, the girls said.
But while the pandemic presented many challenges to the team, it also created new opportunities: the world was going digital at an unforeseeable pace, creating a window of opportunity to launch the platform and bring thousands of users to Erandi Aprende.
It wasn’t much later that Femme & Stem also struck a deal with a local government in the Mexican state of Hidalgo to give girls from vulnerable backgrounds free access to the platform and help them learn about science and technology.
Inception and incubation through Generation Unlimited
Being inspiring community advocates, the young women behind ‘Femme & Stem’ are always on the lookout for opportunities to impact their community—which is how they found out about the Generation Unlimited Youth Challenge.
Every year, the Generation Unlimited Youth Challenge calls on young innovators to design solutions to improve education, employment, and civic engagement. It also acts as a catalyst for young people with brilliant ideas, but without the resources to bring them to life. It’s a true example of a partnership initiative—engaging the private sector in mentorship, youth-led organisations in grass-roots outreach, young people in co-creating solutions, and governments in the judging process.
“The bootcamp was a very enriching experience, helping us gain knowledge about running a business, product design and the development and implementation of social entrepreneurship,” says Miroslava, member and co-founder of the Femme & Stem. “We appreciated being part of an activity set that helped us to understand the creative techniques that lead to innovation, these were really useful since we developed our idea from scratch.”
A few months after winning the local competition, Femme & Stem was crowned a global Generation Unlimited Winner—just one of 8 teams across the world to receive further funding of up to $15,000, along with a tailored global incubation programme which is coordinated globally by UNICEF’s Office of Innovation, working with GenU partners and Country Offices.
“We were all proud, happy and excited—screaming and jumping at this incredible news,” says Sophie, one of the members of the venture, adding that this recognition proved their conviction that this venture had great potential to address gender disparities in STEM fields.
In the near future, the young women want to adapt the platform and its content to become more inclusive and be able to reach girls with disabilities (either auditory or visual ones) and for the long term, they want to launch the platform in English so they can reach worldwide audiences.
“Never give up on your dreams. Great ideas are often considered crazy because they are out of the box and defy the status quo. Yet, new ideas are only crazy until they become the new normal. As youth, it is our responsibility to change our planet and make things better not only for us, but for others who will in turn succeed us,” the girls said.
The Generation Unlimited Youth Challenge 2019/20 is co-hosted globally by four Generation Unlimited partners – UNICEF, UNDP, Plan International and the World Organization of the Scout Movement, with support from Irish Aid.