Despite women outperforming men in education performance, the dearth of women in the workforce in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) is largely prevalent. While efforts, initiatives, and a plethora of programmes are in place worldwide to bridge the divide, it is still a long road ahead if we talk about equality in STEM. However, women who have been game changers in the field are leaving no stone unturned to inspire young girls to forge a path ahead in STEM. On April 27, 2022, when Astronaut Samantha Christoforetti was launched to the International Space Station (ISS) as a member of the Crew-4, she entered space with the same dream. She is currently not only making spaceflight history but also inspiring girls to learn about these fields. Christoforetti carried a lookalike barbie aboard the ISS, and in a video talk with young girls ahead of Space Week, she introduced the astronaut barbie to the camera highlighting the significance of inspiration through science.
45-year-old Astronaut Samantha Christoforetti is not only the first Italian woman in space, but she is also the first European woman commander of the International Space Station. The mission, which began in April, had Christoforetti flying aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule to the International Space Station for a six-month stay.
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Astronaut Barbie In Space
Astronaut Samantha Christoforetti made it to space for the first time in 2015 after extensive astronaut training in 2009. She is currently on her second mission in Space for six months. Recently, in an initiative organised by Inspiring girls international charity which connects young girls to international role models, young girls aged 8 to 11 engaged in an exclusive conversation with Christoforetti and raised several questions about science, space station, and women in space. Christoforetti shared with the girls how her curiosity about the sky made her develop an interest in science and technology. Christoforetti, who loved flying, became a pilot first and then decided to become an astronaut, bringing her passion for tech and science together.
Christoforetti’s lookalike barbie doll was developed by Mattel Inc company in 2019. The commander made it a point to show the astronaut barbie to little girls to enable them to understand how science, too, can be a role model to them. The first Barbie with an astronaut suit was released in 1965, which donned the outfits worn by astronauts in the Mercury programme of the 1960s.
Significance to inspire girls in STEM
It isn’t surprising that women only make up about 28 per cent of the workforce in STEM. The fact that women have been for ages trying to level up and work their way through STEM and still face bias, discrimination and lack of support is a collective systematic failure. Women have been kept away largely by either lack of access to education or limited opportunities that are skimmed through and given to them after men. If we talk about women in space, any woman who has had the possibility to excel in the field has achieved that through her capability and made a remarkable difference with the effective use of the opportunity. But the number of women who have been able to do that is distressing but definitely not surprising. Unfortunately, there are opportunities but not enough for women.
The fact that women remain underrepresented in STEM, despite their solid capabilities, is a cause of concern.
Vinita Marwaha Madill, who worked as a space operations engineer at European Space Agency (ESA), told SheThePeople that while women possess the equal capability in terms of making use of their education, the problem lies in not being allowed to do so most of the times. Madill, who herself progressed in the field after gaining scholarships in this field of education, believes that bringing women to an equal level is a huge mountain to climb but not impossible. “Encouraging more girls to pursue engineering will help to fill this gap, ensuring that they make up 50 per cent of engineering talent and that we’re not missing out on the talent available. Stories of women in STEM are equally important for young girls to read about to get inspired and feel seen,” she said.
Any initiative, however small or big, is a move in the right direction towards bridging gaps in the gender divide in STEM. The fact that women remain underrepresented in STEM, despite their solid capabilities, is a cause of concern. Christoforetti’s journey is inspirational enough for girls out there aspiring to make a mark in science and technology, and anything done to bring a shift at the grassroots level is a welcoming change, to say the least.