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March 07, 2014

Education Key Theme for International Women's Day

by Mariama Diallo

As the world marks International Women's Day on March 8, some women say the best way to improve conditions for their sisters, and their families, is through better education.

On Tuesday First Lady Michelle Obama honored 10 women from around the globe for their leadership in advocating for human rights, women's equality and social progress.  They were presented with the International Women of Courage Award at a ceremony at the U.S. State Department.

"These women have spent years in schools and universities equipping themselves with the knowledge and skills they now use to tackle the challenges before them," she said. "That is the story I can relate to because it is the story of my life."

Another group of women marked International Women's Day by encouraging others to follow them into science, technology, engineering and mathematics - fields usually dominated by males.

Dawn McGinley is with the technology company 3M, co-sponsor of a three-day marathon event this week to mentor women in the so-called STEM education programs - science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“It is an opportunity to celebrate International Women’s Day and to celebrate successful careers, especially of women in engineering and technology,” she said.

During the virtual event, successful businesswomen shared insights and offered advice to women worldwide.

“It is showing them, coaching, mentoring and exposing them early in their careers to what those types of fields of study can be and do,” McGinley said.

"If you look at the statistics, well over half of all STEM jobs in the next 10 to 15 years are in computing ... yet when people talk about STEM, they tend to think about biology, physics," said University of Maryland Baltimore County Professor Marie Desjardins who teaches computer science and engineering. "Those are great areas, but those are not where the big job growth is going to be.”

DesJardins also says exposing kids at an early age is key to getting them interested in STEM.

“Let your girls try things that are not typically girly," she said. "Make sure your kids are getting that from an early age so they think of themselves as creators of technology and new ideas not just following the rules.”

DesJardins says she emphasizes that computer science is really about helping make the world a better place.   

For the women honored this week at the U.S. State Department, education helped them help others.

Dr. Nasrin Oryakhil, who once performed 17 surgeries in one night in Afghanistan, spoke on behalf of the group.

"It is vital to know that women are half of the population ... and marginalizing a girl or a woman in any form or shape means disintegrate the sacred institution of family in our society," she said.

She says empowering women means empowering a society and generation.