Building a Skilled GirlForce for a more equal world


Niall O’Higgins Senior Research Specialist – Youth Employment, ILO and Shreyasi Jha Senior Advisor – Gender and Rights, UNICEF (right)

“I thought only men could learn robotics – now I am able to construct a robot!”

Those were the inspiring words of one teenage Lebanese girl after she attended a training for girls interested in careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

She is just one of more than 600 million adolescent girls worldwide preparing to enter a world of work that is being transformed by innovation and automation. Despite her newfound confidence and passion for STEM, she faces daunting challenges as she transitions from school to work in the coming years.


Lebanese and Syrian teenage girls build an architectural model from cardboard during a Girls Got IT event, supported by UNICEF, at the University of Balamand in Northern Lebanon.

Her secondary school may not be able to provide her with the critical skills she needs to succeed in university and enter the robotics field after graduation. Even if it does, gender-based violence in and around school and inadequate sanitation facilities may prevent her from learning.

“Gender gaps in the labour market persist, even though girls are increasingly more educated than boys in almost all regions of the world”

Her family, teachers and friends may share the belief that robotics is a career for men, denying her critical training opportunities and steering her into low-paid careers. She may be pressured to take on a significant share of household chores or marry early, further limiting her job prospects.

These are the reasons why gender gaps in the labour market persist, even though girls are increasingly more educated than boys in almost all regions of the world, particularly at the tertiary level.

According to the International Labour Organization, young women between the ages of 15 and 29 are three times more likely than young men to be neither employed nor in school. And once they are out of the labour force, they tend to stay out of it.

Almost 70 per cent of these young women say they want to work in the future. However, those that do find work often find themselves in the most marginalized segments of the informal economy, no earning enough to be economically empowered or support their families.


An adolescent girl conducts an experiment during a chemistry class in Kamulanga Secondary School in Lusaka, Zambia.

On this year’s International Day of the Girl, on October 11, the global community should rethink how we prepare girls for a successful transition into the world of work. The world’s 600 million adolescent girls each have the potential, strength, creativity and energy to meet global industry demands.

Here is what each of us can do to support a Skilled GirlForce:

  • Governments should invest in improving the quality, relevance, and gender-responsiveness of teaching and learning – that includes building transferable skills just as problem-solving, confidence, communication and digital literacy.
  • Schools and the private sector should work together to prepare girls for the workforce through mentoring, job shadowing, and apprenticeships that give girls hand-on learning and role models.
  • Parents, teachers—as well as girls and boys themselves—should challenge harmful norms and beliefs that prevent girls from having the same opportunities as boys.
  • Last but not least, girls should keep pursuing their dreams and calling out injustice whenever they encounter it.

Learn more in GirlForce: Skills, Education and Training for Girls Now, a new joint publication by the International Labour Organization and UNICEF.

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