In the words of Jora Zeneli: ‘’STEM fields have no gender, and they require not only knowledge but also courage to break gender stereotypes’’
Jora Zeneli is a 19 years old young woman from Pristina, Kosovo1. After finishing high school, she decided to take a gap year. Although at first, she received criticism and had doubts-herself this, she calls her decision the best one of her life. During this time, Jora explored her interest in STEM and, together with her sister and her friend, founded the organization Cikat n'STEM (Girls in STEM), an organization aiming to empower and educate young women and girls in STEM. Jora is preparing to begin her studies in Lugano, Switzerland for Computer Science and will explore her subjects of interest relating to artificial intelligence engineering.
‘’Being engaged in voluntary work from a young age, I have internalized the sense of having responsibility and I have recognized that small efforts can lead to significant improvements in the community. Being a curious person, analyzing things in depth and not just on the surface, I realized that the best way to combine my interest in STEM fields and my curiosity was to found the Cikat n'STEM organization operating in Kosovo .
Cikat n’STEM was formed when my sister, Etna, who had just finished her studies in the United States at the time, and I planned a two-day STEM-oriented workshop with about 30 participating girls. The great feedback we received from the girls who took part in the workshop convinced us that we should not stop there.
Naturally, every beginning is difficult, and our biggest challenge has been team coordination since us, the three founders were physically apart, nonetheless after designing our vision and mission, we launched the organization on the International Day of Girls in STEM (February 11, 2022) aiming to empower young women and girls in the fields of STEM, and we have been pleasantly surprised by the amount of support we have received since then.
During the annual initiative of the Prishtina Deputy Mayor, Donjeta Sahatçiu, “Girls in ICT Kosovo”, we partnered with UN Women in organizing a joint workshop on "Digital Skills for Everyday Tasks" for young women and girls.
Our goal is to develop a supportive network that encourages young women and girls who want to pursue STEM careers by providing learning resources, training, and other activities that raise awareness about STEM professions and the available opportunities. We organize visits to various companies to see up close the work that is done in these fields, workshops on important topics such as, digital skills for everyday tasks, entrepreneurship, web development, as well as open houses, where we open our doors to girls and break down the barriers that we face. We intend to expand in the future as we are having requests from girls in other countries as well.
For me, leading the organization has been one of the most transforming experiences. This is because working in STEM requires not just technical ability, but also the bravery to question current prejudiced stereotypes against young women and girls with the aim to strengthen gender equality in these sectors. Despite the numerous obstacles and prejudices that still exist, as STEM is still a field dominated by men and boys, I must emphasize that STEM is not reserved for only one gender, which is why I am determined to break stereotypes and prejudices that prevent girls from pursuing STEM fields.
Therefore, my message to every young woman and girl who still doubts herself or due to societal expectations is to remember that their dreams have no bounds and to follow their curiosity into uncharted territory. If you have a vision, you don’t have to doubt that you can make that vision a reality.’’
1 References to Kosovo should be understood to be in the context of UN Security Council Resolution 1244 (1999).