Editor’s note: The importance of representation for young girls academically and professionally is critical — particularly in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields, where women remain especially underrepresented. To address the gender gap in these fields, we must introduce and engage young girls with STEM at a young age. In 2011 the United Nations declared October 11 as the International Day of the Girl Child in support of youth advocacy around the world. This celebration is meant “to help galvanize worldwide enthusiasm for goals to better girls’ lives, providing an opportunity for them to show leadership and reach their full potential.”
This article was originally featured by the USC Center on Public Diplomacy.
By Kana Walsh
On October 11, the world will celebrate the International Day of the Girl Child. This year, the focus is on preparing girls to enter a world of work that is being transformed by innovation and automation. By engaging organizations and groups around the world, the United Nations is bringing people together to address this global issue. This involves encouraging them to expand existing learning opportunities, chart new pathways and call on others in the global community to rethink how to prepare girls for a successful transition into the world of work.
I believe one way we can work together to prepare girls for the world of work is to promote Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). As pointed out by Gwendoline Tilghman, the gender gap in STEM starts in school. When girls are not introduced to STEM early in life, they are far less likely to pursue STEM degrees. Furthermore, girls are far less likely to study STEM subjects when their friends are not studying those subjects. We therefore need programs to introduce groups of girls to STEM subjects. This includes humanitarian mapping.
Open-source, collaborative mapping projects allow users to contribute geospatial data to help visualize locations around the world. This information can be used to tackle humanitarian challenges by identifying where help is needed most. If we want to prepare girls for a successful transition into the world of humanitarian mapping, then it is clear that we need to get more girls mapping at a younger age. And that isn’t going to be easy. Right now, there are a lot of barriers that make it difficult for girls to learn how to use humanitarian mapping tools.
On the International Day of the Girl Child, I believe that countries should promote programs that introduce groups of girls to humanitarian mapping.
Unfortunately, there are no programs specifically designed to get kids into humanitarian mapping, and there are no humanitarian mapping platforms that are specifically designed for kids. Furthermore, age restrictions limit kids from being able to use humanitarian mapping programs, and there are no learning materials specifically designed to help kids understand them. It is also very difficult for kids to participate in humanitarian “mapathons.”
Take YouthMappers, for example. They have created a campaign called “Let Girls Map,” which supports the inclusion of girls and women in mapping communities. It also encourages the celebration of achievements of women student mappers. Let Girls Map is a great way to get girls and women involved in humanitarian mapping. But the problem is that it is specifically designed for young women in college—not for children my age. (editor’s note: Kana is a Cadette in Girl Scouts).
Recently, I completed my Bronze Award on coastal flooding for Girl Scouts of the United States. While researching my project, my dad introduced me to Missing Maps. After using this humanitarian mapping platform, I realized that it would be fun and educational for girls my age to learn how to use humanitarian mapping platforms. I really enjoyed being able to visually go to places halfway around the world and see how mappers can help people affected by coastal flooding. However, I also realized that these platforms are not designed for kids to use. That needs to change. Girls my age should be able to map too.
On the International Day of the Girl Child, I believe that countries should promote programs that introduce groups of girls to humanitarian mapping. In the words of Gwendoline Tilghman, these programs would not only increase STEM education for girls. They would also present an opportunity to strengthen economies for future generations. This makes them a smart, sustainable investment that will promote prosperity, gender equality and disaster preparedness.
Kana Walsh is the daughter of a PhD student being supervised by a SAIS professor. She is a member of the Girl Scouts of Hawaii. She is also a member of the British Girlguiding Overseas. This OpEd is an extension of her Bronze Award Project for the Girl Scouts of the USA. The project was on coastal flooding in East Africa. And, it was completed while accompanying her father on his doctoral fieldwork.
For more information on how Kana is continuing to pursue her goals and helping other young women learn how to map, you can follow her blog – Girls Can Map. You can also follow her on Twitter @girlscanmap to stay up-to-date on the organization’s progress. Girls Can Map is still in the development phase and your support is very much appreciated.
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