June 22, 2023

In the ever-evolving landscape of technology and innovation, the demand for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) professionals continues to surge. 

However, women and girls, particularly those from rural communities, have often been overlooked as a valuable source of talent. This gender gap poses a critical challenge for societies worldwide as technological advancements increasingly drive innovation, productivity and economic prosperity.

When we lack sufficient representation of women in STEM, we miss out on their unique ideas and the creativity they bring. On the other hand, by including more women, we can tap into a broader talent pool, boosting productivity and leading to economic advancement. Furthermore, engaging women from rural communities in STEM careers enhances diversity and ensures a more inclusive workforce. 

So, how can we involve more women from rural areas in STEM? Firstly, we need to increase STEM education in rural schools. This means not just having STEM classes, but also investing in resources, well-trained teachers and infrastructure to provide equal opportunities for girls in rural areas.

We can also set up mentorship programs where girls can meet and learn from women who are already successful in STEM fields. These role models can provide support, inspiration  and guidance. In addition, we should provide equal access to resources such as scholarships, internships and training programs to help girls in rural areas overcome any financial hurdles and access valuable learning opportunities.

Community and Networking is Key

Another important step is to create community initiatives that involve families, educators and community leaders to support and encourage girls in their STEM ambitions. This includes setting up networking events and projects that link rural women with STEM professionals and organizations. Such initiatives help build a sense of community and inspire girls in rural areas to pursue STEM careers.

Empowering women through skill-building programs, including technical training and workshops, offer hands-on experience in specific STEM fields. These programs boost confidence and enhance girls’ chances of succeeding in STEM careers.

To make these plans effective, it is essential to address specific challenges that women in rural communities face. These include limited resources, societal expectations, transportation barriers and perceived inaccessibility of STEM careers. Collaboration among governments, schools, non-profit organizations and communities can overcome these barriers.

Closing the STEM job gap and empowering women in rural areas not only fills jobs in STEM but also promotes equality, boosts economies and drives innovation. By investing in education, mentorship, skill development, networking and breaking down barriers, we can help women become active players in STEM careers. 

IEEE Senior Member Jeewika Ranaweera is an accomplished engineer, a sought-after conference speaker and an avid volunteer committed to making a positive impact in communities worldwide. With a passion for leadership, STEM, mentoring and empowering programs, Jeewika actively works towards bridging the digital gender gap and promoting fairness and inclusivity in the field of AI through her involvement with IEEE Future Directions.


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