International Day of Women and Girls in Science: To The Teachers!

Originally published on LinkedIn.

My mother was the first science teacher brought from a Hindi speaking town in Haryana, India, to our Punjabi speaking town in Punjab to teach science in a girls’ school by her future father-in-law and my grandfather. My grandfather, a philanthropist ahead of his time, founded a girls’ school to promote girls’ education. In the mid-1950s he expanded the school to promote science education for girls. My mom, a science graduate, was a headstrong woman in her early twenties. She would stand up to my grandfather when she disagreed with him. She was not deterred by the fact that he was the President of the school. My grandfather respected her passions for girl’s education, empowerment, and independence. He would arrange volunteer activities to put my mom and my father together in the hope that they would start to like each other. My parents ended up having a “love marriage,” an unusual approach to marriage in our part of the world especially in those days. Even in India of today “love marriages” are not a norm. In a 2014 survey conducted by the United Nations Population Fund and International Center for Research on Women, 11.7% of men and 8.5% of women surveyed claimed that they chose their partners and married with or without the consent of their families.

My father, again an unusual man, supported my mom in pursuing her dream of further education. He was a working dad. He was not shy about doing all the “woman’s chores” including taking care of me and my brother, cooking, washing clothes and ironing my mom’s clothes in order to give my mom additional time to study. Being a prominent family in town, it did not go unnoticed and raised some eyebrows. My mom went on to earn double masters, one in political science and another in history. To this day, she has not stopped from contributing to girls’ education!

Disparities in education go deep and are influenced by sociocultural and economic factors. Additional layers of biases and barriers steer girls and women away from science related fields. It takes determination, community support, and a relentless fighting spirit for girls to surpass hurdles and break the stereotypes to study science. It shouldn’t be like this. “In order to achieve full and equal access to and participation in science for women and girls, and further achieve gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, the United Nations General Assembly adopted resolution A/RES/70/212 declaring 11 February as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science.”

Today on the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, I want to thank the teachers who work hard to encourage and support science education, especially for girls. I am thankful to teachers at my daughter’s school for being those teachers.