Although global gender gaps in education and labor force participation have narrowed significantly in recent years, some discrepancies have refused to budge. Women’s participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) remains stubbornly low around the world. Globally, women represent only 35 percent of higher education STEM students, and hold barely 5 percent of leadership positions in the tech industry. Research shows that increasing the numbers of women in STEM fields can drive growth in economies around the world, and is likely to make technological innovation more inclusive and responsive. Yet, one area where women’s participation has not received significant attention is at the juncture of STEM and foreign policy. Some of today’s most persistent global challenges—from nuclear policy to climate change—require diverse input from the STEM community. In honor of International Day of Women and Girls in Science we highlight women and girls working at intersection of policy and science to advance a more stable and peaceful world.

Nuclear Policy

Women have always played an important role in promoting peace, security, and stability, and the field of nuclear security is no different. One path-breaking woman is Shirley Ann Jackson, who completed her doctorate in particle physics in 1973; the first African-American woman to earn a PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She served as the chair of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and spearheaded the formation of the International Nuclear Regulators Association. In 2016, she became the first African-American woman to be awarded the National Medal of Science. During the Iran nuclear negotiations Federica Mogherini, the EU’s chief diplomat, Helga Schmid, Mogherini’s deputy, Wendy Sherman, a top U.S. State Department official, and Catherine Ashton, the previous EU foreign policy chief, were unable to shake hands with their Iranian interlocutors. Nevertheless, their political acumen, technical knowledge, and diligence secured the Joint Comprehensive Action Plan. Since its inception, women have contributed to the field of nuclear science. Dr. Lise Meitner, a Jewish Austrian physicist, helped discover and explain nuclear fission. Meitner recognized the explosive potential of this process and was invited to work on the Manhattan Project. She refused, declaring, “I will have nothing to do with a bomb!”

Global Health Security

Infectious disease has been part of America’s foreign policy agenda for decades, and each new epidemic highlights the growing importance of global health security. One of the foremost experts on this global challenge is science journalist Laurie Garrett. Winner of journalism’s three most prestigious prizes—the Peabody, Polk and Pulitzer—Garrett writes on the intersections of security and infectious disease, bioterrorism and public health. Dr. Sara Davies, a researcher on health diplomacy and global health governance, brings a gender lens to understanding disease outbreak and management, noting that women face a disproportionate burden during complex health emergencies like Ebola and Zika. Women are also leading on the policy front. Dr. Margaret Chan oversaw global efforts to address the spread of disease for more than a decade as the Director-General of the World Health Organization. She was appointed to the role after her success in Hong Kong battling outbreaks of the H5N1 virus and SARS. And on the ground, women are often the invisible frontline against the spread of disease. During the Ebola crisis in West Africa, women’s traditional roles caring for the sick and preparing bodies for burial put them at great risk, but also meant they represented the vanguard of community response.

Climate Change

Climate change is inarguably one of the biggest issues facing world leaders, and women and girls around the world are leveraging their knowledge and skills to address it. In 2015, Christiana Figueres, the former UN climate chief, was tasked with developing an international response to global warming. The result was the Paris Climate Agreement, a landmark accord that nearly every nation in the world signed. Developed and developing nations alike committed to reducing carbon emissions in order to avert the worst effects of climate change. Adults aren’t the only ones working to save planet. In 2018, then-fifteen year-old Greta Thunberg launched a solitary picket outside the Swedish parliament building in Stockholm, demanding radical and immediate action on climate change. Her act of civil disobedience helped inspire the mass student protest movement that is sweeping across Europe. The movement is led almost entirely by teenage girls, and highlights not only the urgent need to address climate change but also the powerful organizing potential of young women.


Artificial intelligence (AI) is transforming foreign and security policy in ways unforeseen even five years ago. As weapons become increasingly autonomous, women are leading efforts to build global consensus about how AI will shape war. Mary Wareham, global coordinator of the candidly-named “Campaign to Stop Killer Robots,” has worked for decades advocating to curtail the use of weapons that threaten civilians. She now leads a coalition of 93 NGOs across 53 countries striving to create a binding global compact that ensures “meaningful human control” over autonomous weapons systems. Women have been at the forefront of innovation in the defense sector since the very beginnings of computer technology. Dr. Grace Hopper—a naval officer, mathematician, and one of the first three computer programmers in history—pioneered word-based programming languages, opening up the world of coding to a wider community of users. Another critical innovator in defense technology was actress Hedy Lamarr, who patented a system of ‘frequency hopping’ to guide torpedoes while preventing radio interception in 1942. Though not used by the Navy in WWII, her idea later provided the basis for the technology undergirding Wifi, GPS and Bluetooth.

The Way Forward

The women highlighted here represent only a small fraction of those who have worked at the juncture of science and foreign policy, but global statistics tell a worrying story. In the United States and much of the world, both the STEM and foreign policy communities remain overwhelming white and male. This lack of diversity ultimately limits these communities’ ability to innovate and weakens global response to the most critical challenges of our times. When women have the educational and leadership opportunities to pursue careers in STEM, they have influenced the development of policies, programs, and inventions that have changed our world. We cannot afford to leave the talent and contributions of half the world’s population on the table. Advancing women’s participation in STEM to ensure a new generation of female scientists follows in the footsteps of these pioneers is a national security and moral imperative.

About the authors: Rebecca Turkington is assistant director of the women and foreign policy program at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and Rebecca Hughes is a research associate with the women and foreign policy program at CFR.

But it’s difficult to think about value when we have no buoy for understanding it outside our traditional lenses: for example, our time, our job, and what others tell us they are worth in cash. This, largely, is the world’s paradigm for value so far. But understanding what value really means changes everything—and will be at the center of the decentralized revolution in global coordination that will unfold over the next decade. So, where do we begin?

Let’s start with gold.

Gold is an inherent value. When backing a market, gold allows us to grow a balanced economy well into the trillions. But why does it allow for massive stable markets to form around it? It is gold's permanence that creates stability. We understand that gold will always have value, because it is inherent in all of us, not just in one part of the world, but everywhere, not just today, but tomorrow and for the long haul.

In the 1930s when the gold standard was removed, we learned that the U.S. dollar didn’t need gold to back its economy to flourish. We learned that it was just a symbol for U.S. citizens to decentralize their coordination around the United States economy.

It turns out, common agreement is a philosophy for building shared economy.

And so it seems inherent value is a marker for us to begin exploring what the future could look like—a future beyond gold and the existing realm of credit. And so what else has inherent value? Is education as valuable as gold? What about healthcare? What about a vote that can’t be tampered with? What about an ID that can’t be stolen or erased? What about access to nutrition or clean water? You will find value everywhere you look.

It turns out, we’ve already done the legwork necessary to uncover the most elemental inherent values: The Sustainable Development Goals are commitments grown out of the drive to bring to life basic tenets of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—the closest possible social contract we have to a global, common agreement.

We’ve already agreed, as a global community, to ensure inclusive and equitable access to quality education. We’ve already agreed to empower all women and girls, to ensure pure and clean water access for all, to promote health at all stages of life, and to end hunger.

We’ve already agreed.

Our agreements are grounded in deep value centers that are globally shared, but undervalued and unfulfilled. The reason for this is our inability to quantify intangible value. All of these rich, inherent values are still nebulous and fragmented in implementation—largely existing as ideals and blueprints for deep, globally shared common agreement. That is, we all agree education, health, and equality have value, but we lack common units for understanding who and who is not contributing value—leaving us to fumble in our own, uncoordinated siloes as we chase the phantoms of impact. In essence, we lack common currencies for our common agreements.

Now we find ourselves at the nexus of the real paradigm of Blockchain, allowing us to fuse economics with inherent value by proving the participation of some great human effort, then quantifying the impact of that effort in unforgeable and decentralized ledgers. It allows us to build economic models for tomorrow, that create wholly new markets and economies for and around each of the richest of human endeavors.

In late 2017 at the height of the Bitcoin bubble, without individual coordination, planning, or the help of institutions, almost $1 trillion was infused into blockchain markets. This is remarkable, and the revolution has only just begun. When you realize that Blockchain is in a similar stage of development as the internet pre-AOL, you will see a glimpse of the global transformation to come.

Only twice in the information age have we had such a paradigm shift in global infrastructure reform—the computer and the internet. While the computer taught us how to store and process data, the Internet built off that ability and furthered the conversation by teaching us how to transfer that information. Blockchain takes another massive step forward—it builds off the internet, adding to the story of information storage and transfer—but, it teaches us a new, priceless and not yet understood skill: how to transfer value.

This third wave kicked off with a rough start—as happens with the birth of new technologies and their corresponding liberties. Blockchain has, thus far, been totally unregulated. Many, doubtless, have taken advantage. A young child, stretching their arms for the first couple times might knock over a cookie jar or two. Eventually, however, they learn to use their faculties—for evil or for good. As such, while it’s wise to be skeptical at this phase in blockchain’s evolution, it’s important not to be blind to its remarkable implications in a post-regulated world, so that we may wield its faculties like a surgeon’s scalpel—not for evil or snake-oil sales, but for the creation of more good, for the flourishing of commonwealth.

But what of the volatility in blockchain markets? People agree Bitcoin has value, but they don’t understand why they are in agreement, and so cryptomarkets fluctuate violently.  Stable blockchain economies will require new symbolic gold standards that clearly articulate why someone would agree to support each market, to anchor common agreement with stability. The more globally shared these new value standards, the better.

Is education more valuable than gold? What about healthcare or nutrition or clean water?

We set out in 2018 to prove a hypothesis—we believe that if you back a cryptocurrency economy with a globally agreed upon inherent value like education, you can solve for volatility and stabilize a mature long lasting cryptomarket that awards everyone who adds value to that market in a decentralized way without the friction of individual partnerships.

What if education was a new gold standard?

And what if this new Learning Economy had protocols to award everyone who is helping to steward the growth of global education?

Education is a mountain. Everyone takes a different path to the top. Blockchain allows us to measure all of those unique learning pathways, online and in classrooms, into immutable blockchain Learning Ledgers.

By quantifying the true value of education, a whole economy can be built around it to pay students to learn, educators to create substantive courses, and stewards to help the Learning Economy grow. It was designed to provide a decentralized way for everyone adding value to global education to coordinate around the commonwealth without the friction of individual partnerships. Imagine the same for healthcare, nutrition, and our environment?

Imagine a world where we can pay refugees to learn languages as they find themselves in foreign lands, a world where we can pay those laid off by the tide of automation to retrain themselves for the new economy, a world where we can pay the next generation to prepare themselves for the unsolved problems of tomorrow.

Imagine new commonwealth economies that alleviate the global burdens of poverty, disease, hunger, inequality, ignorance, toxic water, and joblessness. Commonwealths that orbit inherent values, upheld by immutable blockchain protocols that reward anyone in the ecosystem stewarding the economy—whether that means feeding the hungry, providing aid for the global poor, delivering mosquito nets in malaria-ridden areas, or developing transformative technologies that can provide a Harvard-class education to anyone in the world willing to learn.

These worlds are not out of reach—we are only now opening our eyes to the horizons of blockchain, decentralized coordination, and new gold standards. Even though coordination is the last of the seventeen sustainable development goals, when solved, its tide will lift for the rest—a much-needed rocket fuel for global prosperity.

“Let us raise a standard to which the wise and the honest can repair.”  —George Washington
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.