Azerbaijan leads for women in STEM

UN Development Programme
3 min readOct 8, 2020
Robotics engineer Maral Qarbanzade mentors a young girl. Screenshot from “STEM ushaqlar.”

Only 30 percent of researchers worldwide in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are women, while — even more worryingly — girls make up only 35 percent of all students enrolled in STEM subjects. In Azerbaijan, this number is higher than average, with women students comprising 40 percent of graduates in STEM-related fields.

One reason for this is that some famous women from Azerbaijan have made great contributions to science and have been inspiring role models for future generations. Leyla Mammadbeyova, was Azerbaijan’s first woman forensic medical expert and became the country’s first woman Chief Pathologist. With over 200 scientific publications to her name, she also won several medals for her contributions to science. Dilshad Talibkhan Elbrus was Azerbaijan’s first woman nuclear physicist and Mahmuba Mahmudbayova was Azerbaijan’s first woman medical Doctor of Science and made a number of important medical discoveries that have improved the treatment of pregnant women with cardiovascular diseases.

All of these scientists and technicians have paved the way for many other women and girls to engage in science.

But the struggle for women to take an equal place in STEM research and practice is not over, and the obstacles are much the same worldwide.

Recent studies have found that women in STEM fields are paid less for their research and do not progress as far as men in their careers.

Often girls are made to believe they are not smart enough for STEM or that boys and men have a somehow natural affinity for these disciplines.

In Azerbaijan, the latest 2019 official statistics show that girls performed better than boys in university entrance exams in 2010–2018.

Girls’ acceptance rate to the universities is higher than boys’ in most of the regions of Azerbaijan.

Girls attain higher average scores than boys in university entrance exams in all subjects.

However, the same statistics also show that the acceptance rate to university-level STEM subjects is dramatically lower for girls than boys.

And while more women are now graduating with science doctorates, they frequently come up against glass ceilings and too often find jobs only in the public sector.

While jobs in this sector offer a better work-life balance, this sector typically has fewer career opportunities than the business world. Despite all these setbacks, however, women and girls continue to lead groundbreaking research, developing life-saving medicine and exploring the universe. With Azerbaijan’s aspirations to become one of the leaders of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the number of leaders and experts in the jobs of the future will be in ever greater demand.

Scientific and technological progress on this scale can only be achieved when women and girls are creators, owners, and leaders of science, technology and innovation. Bridging the gender gap in STEM is vital to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and for creating infrastructure, services and solutions that work for all people. This is why UNDP has joined forces with USAID in Azerbaijan to inspire the next generation of women and girls.

We will highlight the diversity of people already in STEM through an awareness-raising campaign, a series of webinars, events and the piloting of a four-month mentorship programme.

We will be aiming to capture the imagination of young women and girls in Azerbaijan, encouraging them to graduate in fields where their skills are in high demand and helping to ensure they have the support of their peers and their families when it comes to choosing the career they love. The mentorship programme is informal — our online platform powered by the Accelerator Labs will be bringing together students with practicing industry mentors, matching students with mentors in similar fields of study or work experience to meet via video chats or in person based on their schedules, setting both short- and long-term career goals.

If you are looking for a mentor or want to be a mentor yourself and help more girls and women get into STEM, then get in touch with us.

Story by Leyla Seyidzade, Head of Exploration and Sandra Ismanovski, Head of Communications @UNDPAzerbaijan