As Americans, we have a seemingly insatiable desire for progress. It’s one of the founding features of our country and one of our greatest strengths as a nation. It is also part of the reason the United States is uniquely positioned to lead efforts aimed at tackling global challenges like the climate crisis and plastic pollution or strengthening S&T collaboration across the world. Through these efforts, we are committed to helping humanity reach its full potential.
It’s a goal that requires active engagement and buy-in from all facets of society – with no exceptions.
That is why the Biden-Harris Administration has made promoting gender equity and equality a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy. That is why the Biden-Harris Administration just released the first-ever interagency U.S. Strategy on Global Women’s Economic Security. And that is why the OES bureau with its agency and interagency partners is supporting efforts across the globe to increase the participation of women and girls in all their diversity in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.
STEM skills and knowledge, including in digital skills and technology, are needed to address some of the most pressing challenges of our day; in particular, the climate crisis, which disproportionately affects women and girls. Women and girls, meanwhile, have been shown to be some of the most creative and vocal advocates in our collective fight against climate change. And we must empower them as leaders in addressing the climate crisis – as innovators, entrepreneurs, and founders of initiatives and enterprise with meaningful environmental and social impact.
On a recent trip to Vietnam and Thailand, I saw firsthand the devastating effects of climate change, from destructive floods, where tides are causing regular flooding in streets and on the first floors of buildings, to drought and biodiversity loss. Local science and technological innovations are key to tackling these issues and protecting at-risk communities. In fact, we see the benefits of science first-hand through the Thai Department of Drainage and Sewage’s use of technology to prevent severe floods, and through our own cooperation with Thailand and Vietnam as part of the Mekong-U.S. Partnership, where the Mekong Dam Monitor serves as a platform to collect and analyze information to reduce water-related risks and improve responses to environmental emergencies.
Developing similar solutions, however, requires an increase in STEM education and increased participation in STEM fields, where all women and girls including the LGBTQI+ community are underrepresented. And achieving equity for women and girls in STEM fields requires addressing barriers to entry, retention, and promotion – in academia, government service, and the private sector – while simultaneously increasing access to educational opportunities from the earliest ages.
Space, for example, is still the domain of young dreamers; yet, women and girls remain an exception in the pursuit and exploration of outer space. It’s a paradigm that I hope is changing. On a recent visit to the Republic of Korea, I was thrilled to meet with a talented group of women space professionals – including Soyeon Yi, the ROK’s first astronaut, who has truly shattered the celestial glass ceiling for her country.
At home, in the United States, young women are increasingly present in our space program – and through the Artemis program, a woman will be among the next astronauts on the Moon. But we know that’s not enough – we have to give other young women increased opportunity to follow in these zero-gravity footsteps. That’s why the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy established the interagency Space STEM Task Force – to develop and facilitate the coordination and implementation of federal actions to grow, diversify, and strengthen the space workforce.
I recognize it’s a small step, but it is important. And I am confident we can do more, at home and abroad. We know that women and girls around the world face roadblocks when it comes to accessing STEM education, digital literacy and skills building, investment, networks, and careers. The State Department is doing its part to help change that. While in Thailand, for example, I met with alumni of the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative, or YSEALI, an exchange program that builds the next generation of leaders for this important region. Let me tell you. These amazing women are doing so much positive, cutting-edge work, from healthcare to marine biology, and they are the proof, not only that women belong, but that women are change agents to reach our potential.
I am confident we are on a smart path – the right path. The Biden-Harris Administration is going to continue efforts to dismantle obstacles that keep women and girls in all their diversity from reaching their and our full potential. We need to capitalize on this moment with a commitment to open, merit-based, transparent, and reciprocal science. If we do, I believe in a future where all women and girls have an equal seat at the table.