Shirley M. Malcom, head of AAAS Education and Human Resources, served as one of the United States’ six public delegates at the 55th Session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. At the session’s spring meeting in New York, Malcom and others engaged in top-level discussions on women and girls’ access to and participation in science and technology.
Shirley M. Malcom
Science and technology—along with education and job training for women—were the main themes of the 22 February – 4 March session. The 2011 meetings underscored how significant science has become, Malcom said, since the UN’s prominent Fourth Conference on Women held in Beijing in 1995.
At the Beijing conference, Malcom said, “science and technology were very much on the margins of discussions.” But policymakers, educators, and others now are focusing on opportunities created by science, she said, “including the extent to which science and technology could offer decent work, personal empowerment, and affect the roles women play in their families and communities.”
Malcom said that presentations at the 55th Session described “an incredible role for how science and technology can relieve women’s burdens,” but also emphasized that national development and economic growth are no longer separate issues from women’s advancement.
“Countries will never develop fully,” she said, “until they are willing and able to utilize the full extent of the talent available to them, including the talent of women.”
Malcom has built a broad record of accomplishment and advocacy, and is regarded globally as a leader in efforts to improve science and engineering education and diversity in those fields. She has chaired a number of national committees addressing education reform and access to scientific and technical education, careers, and literacy. Malcom served on the National Science Board from 1994 to 1998; from 1994-2001, she served on the President’s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology. She is the co-chair of the Gender Advisory Board of the UN Commission on Science and Technology for Development.
As part of the U.S. delegation, Malcom joined former astronaut Mae Jemison; Google Vice President Megan Smith; actress Geena Davis; and technical adviser Kerri-Ann Jones, the assistant secretary of state for oceans and international environmental and scientific affairs, among others. The delegation was co-headed by Ambassador Susan Rice, U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations, and Ambassador Melanne Verveer, the Department of State’s ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues.
The meeting unfolded against a complicated backdrop. Rice remained deeply involved in the session’s discussions even as government protests were unfolding in Libya and Bahrain, while Verveer led key negotiations at the session to bring women’s rights groups together with science agencies—a first exchange for many of the groups. Malcom said she was impressed by “signs of interest and commitment from both ambassadors” as they worked to consider issues of women and science within a broad foreign policy framework.
Read the draft Agreed Conclusions from the 55th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women.
Read more about the 55th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women.
Read the report of the UN Secretary-General on access and participation of women and girls to education, training, science, and technology.
Learn more about AAAS Education and Human Resources.