• Dr Nikki James

In the room @ Counted & Visible

This week I was fortunate to attend the UN Women Counted & Visible conference. The UN's 2030 Agenda pledges to leave no one behind, in the pursuit of the SDGs. The first step to leaving no one behind is to make sure everyone is counted! A few staggering things I learnt at the conference that I'm still mulling over are:

  1. 67% of the metrics for gender-related SDG's are missing or unavailable

  2. The leading cause of death of 15 – 19-year olds globally is complications in pregnancy and childbirth!

  3. In a lot of African countries, people over 50 are not accounted for in census data.

Pause for a minute and let those facts sink in. Let them make you feel uncomfortable for a brief second. Because this is NOT okay.


If you know me, you know that I’m a learning scientist. But did you know that less than 30% of scientists are female?


If you know me, you know that I work as a senior leader in a technology company. But, did you know that in my sector women hold less than 16% of leadership roles?


Did you know, I get mistakenly called “James” in emails. Did you know that I’ve been mistaken for my bosses PA in business meetings? Did you know that I often have to field questions about whether I received an opportunity because of my gender or because I actually have the authority/experience/credentials?


But, all that aside, I AM COUNTED. And, just that fact alone means I am in a better position than the majority of my fellow women around the world.


In Australia, equality is still a work in progress, but we have the data to know where we stand. In 2015, only 2.7% of babies in Australia were born to teenage mothers compared with Bangladesh, where 113 in 1000 girls fall pregnant before the age of 19. And, I do not have to worry about no longer being counted in our national census when I am 50, an age that is now closer to me than 25 is.


This week being IN THE ROOM at Counted and Visible, I was dealing with a mixed bag of emotions. On the one hand, I was inspired and encouraged by all the incredibly passionate people working towards equality in their nation. Simultaneously, I was sobered by the statistics I mentioned above and many many more!


So what now? As a learning scientist, I have come to understand how uncomfortable we humans are with unresolved problems… As a teacher, I have watched students in my classroom 'give up' on solving a riddle when they could not work out the answer in 3 seconds. I have watched students in innovation courses skip the 'problem identification' stage of innovation, opting instead to retrofit a solution to a problem. And, I’ve seen staggering numbers of students leave feedback on assignments ‘unread’ because they don’t have the opportunity to do anything about the problems identified.


Maybe the first step to solving these problems is for us to get more comfortable sitting with issues and accepting them as problems.


So, my question to you is this… when I asked you to pause for a minute and let those stats sink in, did you do it? Did you actually think about how crazy it is that the leading cause of death for a 15-19-year-old girl is complications in pregnancy and childbirth? Or did you keep reading without a second glance?


If you did, that’s okay… but if you’re willing my challenge to you is - try again. Try and actually consider the enormity of what these stats mean. Let them not be numbers, but humans, lives and stories.


Then ask yourself what you're going to do about it.


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