Photo by Chokniti Khongchum

Empowering Young Girls for Science in Pakistan

STEM education is revolutionizing society by giving students a new outlook and a set of adaptable abilities that are useful in a variety of occupations. It fosters adaptability, analytical thinking, pattern recognition, and critical evaluation capacity. Additionally, STEM education promotes social consciousness by making the general public more aware of international issues.

As a result, taking advantage of STEM opportunities helps us move towards a knowledge-driven economy. It deepens our sustainability awareness, resulting in a more sustainable and informed global community.

But what is STEM? STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math. It focuses on education in the fields of scientific and technological development. STEM education brings These fields together to establish a coherent system that creates professionals capable of transforming society through creativity and environmentally friendly solutions.

This system was introduced in the US in the early 2000s to encourage the younger generation to participate in the mentioned fields. In 2005, the US National Academy of Science, Engineering and Medicine report highlighted a strong relationship between knowledge-intensive professions and the country’s prosperity. The report also emphasized the importance of innovation to solve social concerns. According to the analysis, there would be disastrous repercussions if the nation could not compete in the global economy due to a sluggish labour force. 

Ten years into the introduction of the term, the STEM professions saw a growth rate of three times compared to the growth rate of non-STEM jobs [1]. 

Despite so much effort, discrimination against specific gender and racial groups remained. We shall focus on the gender gap in the STEM workforce in the US and globally. Moreover, we shall see how Pakistani women scientists and STEM educators are doing their best to address the problem of gender disparity.


According to MIT, in 2023, the total number of females in STEM fields is about 28%. Country-wise speaking, in the US, 24% of the STEM field workers are women. In the European Union, the percentage of the workforce in STEM who are women is 17%. The numbers are dwindling in the East as well. In Japan, only 16% of the STEM workforce comprises female staff and 14% in India [2].

Considering Pakistan, UNESCO reports that 47% of the total students who enrol in universities are female. The percentage of female students that enrol in doctoral programs is only 36%. The rate is further reduced in the institutes offering natural sciences programs, i.e., 34% and 45% of medical and engineering programs consist of only 21% female students [3]. 


Some of the reasons that contribute to the gender gap in the STEM fields include stereotypes that portray STEM as a masculine domain, leading young girls to be discouraged from pursuing such careers at an early stage. Additionally, women remain underrepresented in these fields; their achievements and successes often go unnoticed, and young girls have fewer inspiring figures to admire. This shortage of role models adds to the discouragement and lack of confidence among girls considering pursuing careers in STEM.

Work-life balance also plays a significant role, particularly for women, as demanding careers in engineering and science may prompt some individuals to opt out of managing family responsibilities. Furthermore, gender discrimination and isolation are reported to be prevalent in STEM careers, creating additional barriers for women in these fields.

Addressing these challenges is crucial for promoting gender diversity and inclusivity in STEM, allowing all individuals’ full potential and talents to be harnessed equally in these vital sectors [2].

How do we encourage YOUNG GIRLS into STEM fields? Opinions by the Famous PAKISTANI Women in STEM

Despite all the hardships and deprivation, several women from Pakistan have broken the stereotypes and are playing a pivotal role in contributing to the STEM fields. These women have also been influential in inspiring young girls into STEM fields. 

Asifa Akhtar

Asifa Akhtar, the Max Planck Institute of Immunology and Epigenetics vice president, is dedicated to advancing the careers of young scholars, particularly women. Her objective is to contribute to reducing the gender gap in science. She is a biologist from Pakistan whose research is focused on epigenetics mechanisms and chromatin.

Asifa Akhtar - Girls in STEM
Asifa Akhtar

“Gender equality needs to be worked on continuously. There are outstanding women in science, and we should make all the efforts and use our resources to win them for the Max Planck Society”. [4]

She further said it is up to responsible people to create a setting where women can quickly rise and fulfil their dreams of having a successful career [5]. 

“Nature intended that women are the sex that bears children and, initially, provides them with nourishment, but it’s up to us to create the conditions that make a career in science possible in spite of that.” ~ Asifa Akhtar

“If we want women to progress in science, we need to enable practical solutions such as childcare and time-sharing or home office options,” she added while talking about the role of society in reducing gender inequality [4].

Nergis Mavalvala

In 2017, gravitational waves were discovered by a team of scientists. Nergis Mavalvala, an astrophysicist of Pakistani descent, has been on the team to whom this discovery attributes, and she’s been working on GWs for more than 30 years now. She was born in Lahore and later came to Karachi in her early childhood. She became the ray of hope for many people pursuing scientific careers. Later, in 2020, she became the dean of the School of Science at MIT.

Nergis Mavalvala - Girls in STEM
Nergis Mavalvala

Mavalvala states, “I grew up in a family where the stereotypical gender roles were not observed. So, I grew up thinking women can, must and should do anything and everything. That is very important for me.” [6] 

Mavalvala insisted that Pakistani women can do everything anybody else can. “Anybody should be able to do those things. And I am proof of that because I am all of those things. With the right combination of opportunity, I could do.” [7] 

Her comments point toward the fact that everyone has a role in breaking stereotypes. They are starting from the home and moving up to the societal level. 

“When everyone has access to education, all the other things come into place… [You’ve] got to do what gives you pleasure, gotta find a way to do it. People should do what they enjoy most, and I think for all of society, whether it’s in Pakistan or elsewhere, we have to create opportunities for young girls to do what they’re good at and do what they love to do must cultivate the sense of wonder in a child,” Mavalvala said during a TV interview in 2016.

Ayesha Arshad

An aspiring astrophysicist from Pakistan, Ayesha Arshad, is pursuing her studies in Germany. Her research is about determining physical parameters such as the temperature and size of hot subdwarf stars. First, she said that it is of utmost importance to encourage and help girls develop reading habits.

She commented, “Reading might seem small at first glance, but this is what worked for me. It sparks curiosity and compels us to ask questions. Reading broadens knowledge, improves critical thinking, and exposes one to diverse perspectives.”

Ayesha Arshad
Ayesha Arshad

She stated, “Another way is to highlight the achievements of Pakistani women working in science and technology. Listening to or reading about their journey and the hurdles they faced would help the girls decide how to tackle the problems that might come their way better.”

Miss Arshad further added that teaching the history of science and technology and STEM subjects should be necessary in schools. “Girls can better appreciate the significance and relevance of STEM disciplines by learning about scientists’ discoveries, developments, and motivations throughout history.”

She shared her personal life experience and how it wasn’t easy to answer all her family’s concerns. Eventually, she convinced her parents to pursue STEM as a career, and later, her family supported her fully. “Hence, educating the parents is just as important as educating the younger generation,” she added.

Hira Fatima

Hira Fatima is Pakistan’s National Astronomy Education Coordinator (NAEC) at the International Astronomical Union (IAU) Office of Astronomy Education. As a Pakistani computational astrophysicist, her passion for encouraging girls into STEM is undeniable. While talking to her on the topic, she provided some valuable insights to raise awareness among the potential future scientists of the country.

According to her, raising awareness among parents to equally support, encourage and provide young girls with opportunities to pursue STEM is essential. 

Hira Fatima

She further mentions, “As a teacher, I also strive to help girls build confidence in their abilities by addressing impostor syndrome and emphasizing that their voices and contributions are valuable in STEM fields. Additionally, I teach girls the importance of perseverance and overcoming challenges, as success in STEM often requires continuous effort and problem-solving.”

One crucial reason mentioned in the previous section was the underrepresentation of female scientists and role models for the younger generation. Having a role model from whom the children may take inspiration is necessary to build their interest in pursuing scientific careers.

Fatima addressed that issue: “Whenever I organize education and outreach events, I showcase successful female scientists, engineers, and astronomers as role models. By sharing their stories and achievements, young girls can see themselves in similar roles and realize the possibilities within STEM.”

Ramla Qureshi

Ramla Qureshi is a noticeable name among the famous women in STEM. Qureshi is a PhD researcher and assistant professor at the University of Buffalo, New York. She specializes in studying structures that can withstand natural disasters such as earthquakes and fires [8]. 

Ramla Qureshi
Ramla Qureshi

Motivated by the shocking stats of the gender gap in the STEM fields, Qureshi started Women Engineers Pakistan (WEP) to raise awareness and to help increase the falling number of women in the scientific fields. [9]

The list doesn’t stop there. Our society has countless hidden gems trying hard to make a difference. Honourable mentions include Yumna Majeed, founder of Exploration – Cosmos to Classroom, an education organization promoting space and astronomy education at school levels.

Tasneem Zehra, theoretical physicist and author of “Only the longest threads”. Sarah Qureshi, the aerospace engineer and founder of Aero Engine Craft (Pvt) Ltd. She works on the development of green aeroplane engines. Zartaj Waseem, CEO and founder of Pakistan Space Science Education Centre (PSSEC) and a STEM educator. 

These are a few names among the long list of people who are contributing towards reducing gender inequality as well as encouraging the new generation to pursue scientific careers. One can only feel inspired by the hard work of our gems. 


Also, Read Talking Data in Healthcare and Opportunities for Women with Dr. Bushra Anjum