Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate For Change


March 8, 2019

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The theme for International Women’s Day 2019 is “Think equal, build smart, innovate for change.” The theme focuses on innovative ways in advancing gender equality and the empowerment of women, particularly focusing on innovation and technology. Trends show that women are under-represented in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, mathematics). Currently, women hold only 18 percent of undergraduate computer science degrees and make up just 25 percent of the digital industries’ workforce (UN Women, 2017). If women are to compete successfully for ‘new collar’ jobs, we have to encourage changes at a community level as well as within the family.

Article by Farishta Murzban Dinshaw


Research shows there is little to no difference in boys’ and girls’ average ability at STEM subjects when you factor in gender equality within society. Luigi Guiso and colleagues (2008) found that in Turkey, boys outperform girls by 22.6 points while in Iceland the gender difference is reversed: girls outperform boys by 14.5 points. Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a worldwide study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 67 nations. Every three years, OECD tests 15-year-old students in reading, mathematics and science. PISA shows that gender gaps in academic performance are not determined by innate differences in ability.


Zarathushtis are fortunate not to have faith-based or cultural barriers to higher education for women. However, there are still structural barriers to overcome. It is not enough for individual women to prosper. This means that in order to attract more girls to study STEM subjects at university and enter STEM careers, we need to tackle the stereotypes they are exposed to in everyday life.

Within the family, parents need to counter everyday stereotypes in social media, TV, advertising and entertainment, which focus on popularity, beauty and size, rather than intellectual or athletic ability as a way to measure success. One way to counter this is for parents to encourage children to look up to role models in the STEM subjects. They do not have to be Zarathushti role models, but we have some dynamic women that should be celebrated. The most lauded globally is Nergis Mavalvala, quantum astrophysicist, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She was among the team of scientists who, for the first time, observed ripples in the fabric of space-time called gravitational waves. In the USA, Huban Gowadia is the Deputy Administrator of the Transportation Security Administration. She has a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Pennsylvania State where she specialized in fluid mechanics and heat and mass transfer. In Canada, Dr. Dhun Noria, was presented with the Order of Ontario for her work in pathology as Chief of Laboratory Medicine and Medical Director of Laboratories at The Scarborough Hospital.


Parents need to reflect on their gender biases. For example, discouraging a girl from yelling during play as “unladylike”, while dismissing rowdy behavior among boys with, “boys will be boys”. Parents are more likely to give toy vehicles, action figures, and sports equipment for their sons and are more likely to give dolls, kitchen sets, and dress-up toys to their daughters. Children also see how housework is divided – who does the cooking, who mows the lawn, who pays the bills, and who programs the new TV. Being exposed to these kinds of messages again and again, and in interactions with different people, instils a sense of what boys and girls ‘should’ be like, and what are ‘gender appropriate’ attitudes, opinions and behaviour. Upholding or supporting such gender stereotypes can potentially hamper both girls’ and boys’ development and inadvertently shape their later career prospects (Fulcher, 2015).

Another way is for parents to give equal support and encouragement to daughters and sons. “PISA results show that this doesn’t always happen. In all countries and economies that surveyed the parents of students who sat the PISA test, parents were more likely to expect their sons, rather than their daughters, to work in a science, technology, engineering or mathematics field – even when their 15-year-old boys and girls perform at the same level in mathematics.’ (OECD, 2015)


The education system also needs to actively reflect on institutional biases. Research shows that in schools girls are praised for being neat, quiet, and calm, whereas boys are encouraged to think independently, be active and speak up. Other forms of gender bias includes boys being more likely to be called up to the front of the room to do a science demonstration, and teachers more likely to offer boys specific feedback on their work, including praise, criticism and remediation. “Teachers can help by becoming more aware of their own gender biases that may affect how they award marks to students…In addition, teachers can use teaching strategies that demand more of their students, since students, and particularly girls, tend to perform better in mathematics when their teachers ask them to try to solve mathematics problems independently.” (OECD, 2015)

Within our community, FEZANA and other trusts and foundations should proactively create and award scholarships for young women who want to study STEM subjects. This may seem a type of ‘affirmative action’, but this is where we need to promote gender equity rather than gender equality. **

This article is exclusively published here and shall be published in the Spring 2019 issue of the FEZANA Journal.


· Fulcher, M. Quoted in Robb, A. (2015) “How gender-specific toys can negatively impact a child’s development” in Women in the World in Association with the New York Times, retrieved from http://nytlive.

· Guiso L , Monte F , Sapienza P , Zingales L. (2008).  Diversity. Culture, gender, and math.

Science (New York, N.Y.)  1164-1165

· OECD (2015). PISA in Focus What lies behind gender inequality in education?. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

· UN Women (February 28, 2017). Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030: Message by UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka on International Women’s Day, 8 March. Retrieved from

clip_image002Farishta Murzban Dinshaw is an Adjunct Professor with the graduate programs in Immigration and Settlement, and Criminology and Social Justice at Ryerson University, Toronto. She also works with newcomer and ethno-linguistic communities in Ontario to raise awareness about family violence, addictions, and mental health. She is a regular contributor to Zarathushti community journals and is the author of “Discovering Ashavan”, a young adult novella set in ancient Iran about a young boy befriended by Zarathushtra.