A skilled GirlForce for a more equal world

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

These 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 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.

Her secondary school may not be able to provide her with the critical skills she needs to succeed in university and enter the field of robotics 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 labor 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 labor market persist, even though girls are increasingly more educated than boys in almost all regions of the world, particularly at the level of higher education.

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 both unemployed and out of school. And once they are out of the labor force, they tend to stay out of it.

A schoolgirl sitting at a table with an open school workbook in front of her picking up an empty test tube.
© UNICEF/UN0145554/SchermbruckerAn adolescent girl conducts an experiment during a chemistry class in Kamulanga Secondary School in Lusaka, Zambia.

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, not earning enough to be economically empowered or support their families.

On International Day of the Girl, UNICEF is calling on the global community to 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 – this includes building transferable skills such as problem-solving, confidence-building, 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 — and 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 International Labour Organization and UNICEF.


Shreyasi Jha is Senior Advisor – Gender and Rights at UNICEF.
Niall O’Higgins is Senior Research Specialist – Youth Employment at ILO.

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