Women and girls face biases every day. Some biases against women are unconscious – think of dimly lit streets that are unsafe for women to walk on or schools without running water causing girls to miss school when they are menstruating. But there are also conscious biases like discrimination in education or professional development against girls and women, particularly in areas of STEM. This International Women’s Day, Swaantje Marten from the SPRING evaluation team highlights how SPRING businesses helped #BreakTheBias.
One way of breaking gender biases in public spaces is to include women in the planning process. Myanmar urban design firm Doh Eain – meaning ‘Our home’ – put this principle into action. The company used a participatory design process to create safe, inclusive, and accessible public spaces in Yangon, Myanmar. In 2019, the SPRING accelerator supported Doh Eain in partnering with a group of 15 young women to build a city park in Yankin township tailored to girls’ needs. “There’s a lack of public spaces for girls and it’s customary to make girls stay at home, so I want to create public spaces that are safe for girls and turn this place into an attraction of Yankin”, said one of the 14 year-old participants.
Another SPRING business aimed to break a more conscious gender bias – the one against girls and women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). STEM subjects are often seen as more suitable for boys, including by girls themselves. Because this bias affects girls’ involvement in these subjects from as early as primary school, it stops them from laying the foundation for a career in technology or computer science which are some of the fastest growing and best paid sectors. This, in turn, contributes to the persistent gender pay gap.
Ejaad Tech, a SPRING business based in Pakistan, sought to break this vicious cycle early on. With the help of their hands-on experimental demonstration ‘pop-up learning’ kits, they made STEM-subjects more engaging and approachable for all students. They also held sessions to encourage school children to build their own robots, even in remote parts of Pakistan where girls are particularly marginalised. The team of engineers, designers, developers, makers and tinkerers, as they describe themselves, want to help create a culture of makers and problem solvers in their country.
Similarly, Women in Digital (WID) addressed the tech bias against women in Bangladesh by creating digital platforms to support women and girls entering the IT sector. Since their establishment, WID has trained and empowered more than 7000 adolescent girls and women all over Bangladesh. Achia Nila founded WID because she did not want other women to face the same barriers she faced as a female computer scientist in Bangladesh: “The entire society was constantly judging our existence, capabilities, wants, needs, and dreams, all based on our gender. I knew very clearly that I am not going to keep fighting just for my own personal acceptance”, she says.
We have come a long way, but biases against girls and women are still deeply rooted in our societies. To achieve a truly gender equal world in which every woman and girl can thrive, we need to eliminate both conscious and unconscious biases. SPRING businesses like Doh Eain, Ejaad Tech or WID can play an important role in #BreakingTheBias.