Editorial Notes

[Editorial Notes] Closing the gender gap in science

The history of science shows that many revolutionary discoveries were made by women scientists. With few women in the field, the quality of science and advancement of society are both affected.
By IASToppers
March 20, 2020

Contents

  • Introduction
  • Gender Discrimination
  • Questions raised
  • Sigh of relief
  • The ‘leaky pipeline’ problem
  • Global Gender Gap Index 2020
  • Initiatives for Women in Science
  • Conclusion

 

Closing the gender gap in science

For IASToppers’ Editorial Simplified Archive, click here

Introduction:

India celebrates National Science Day on February 28 every year to mark C.V. Raman’s discovery of the scattering of light. For the last 33 years, on this day, research institutes and other academic centres in the country have been holding public outreach programmes or conducting meetings on select topics and the theme was Women in Science.

Gender Discrimination:

  • India despite of huge progress in the annals of Science has witnessed lower women participation in the field.
  • The cultural and gender norms have haunted women’s participation in science and is the major reason why the country lost out on an important opportunity to build a culture of including women in science during the pre-Independence days and even after that.
  • The stories of gender discrimination help in the understanding of the current discourse on the social and organisational conditions that regulate women’s participation in science education and research.

Questions raised:

  • How do male colleagues behave today towards women working in labs today?
  • Have the gender attitudes changed?
  • It is true that a resurgent inclusive nationalism propounded by Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore, Jawaharlal Nehru and others during the struggle for Independence encouraged women, at least those who were part of the upper social strata, to break the familial and cultural shackles and enter the public space.
  • But did this social transformation really helped in narrowing the wide gender gap in professional careers?
  • While cultural and social causes are considered the primary reasons for gender discrimination, at least in India, organisational factors have also played a big role in preventing gender parity in science.

Sigh of relief:

  • Compared to the pre-Independence days, one encouraging fact is that there is an exponential growth in the participation of women in the undergraduate and graduate levels.
  • In the U.K., women account for 40% of undergraduate students who pursue degrees in the physical sciences and mathematical sciences and 14% in engineering and technology.
  • In India, the corresponding figures are about 40% and 18%, respectively.
  • More than 40% of PhD-holders in India are women.
  • These figures, according to various estimates published in Current Science, show that social shackles are loosening.
  • There have been changes that give us hope too. For example, India is seeing more women in engineering today than ever before.
  • This is heartwarming as engineering was once seen as a ‘men only’ domain.
  • The role of women engineers in the launch of the Indian Space Research Organisation’s second moon mission, Chandrayaan-2, is now legendary.

The ‘leaky pipeline’ problem:

  • The real trouble starts after women obtain their educational qualifications.
  • The percentage of women in faculty positions drops to less than 20%; only a few reach the top positions of institutes and universities.
  • This is also the time when many of them become mothers, sometimes because of familial pressure.
  • In all the three science academies combined, only about 10% are women Fellows.
  • Including more women in science is not only important from the human rights perspective; it also impacts the quality of science and the advancement of society itself.
  • Women across the world face the ‘leaky pipeline’ problem. Without supportive institutional structures in place, women, when they are pregnant, worry about gaps in publications, how they will do fieldwork, whether they will get promotions.
  • Productivity concerns are high for women, especially in academia where the number of papers you publish is a marker of productivity.

Global Gender Gap Index 2020:

  • At the same time some recent reports should worry us. According to the Global Gender Gap Index 2020, a study covering 153 economies, India has slipped to the 112th spot from its 108th position in 2018.
  • The report also says it would take nearly a hundred years to close the gender gap in various fields in India compared to the time it would take in other countries.
  • To prove the prediction wrong, the Indian scientific community should act as a pressure group to build greater focus on the issue and push for concrete measures to address the problem.
  • As a simple first step, India should relax certain norms for women.
  • The expansion of maternity leave to 26 weeks from the previous 12 weeks shows that the present government is seized of the matter, but how this will affect the hiring of women workers is yet to be seen.

Initiatives for Women in Science:

  • Department of Science and Technology has started several pioneering initiatives for promoting women in science.

1. WISTEMM program:

  • The Indo-U.S. Fellowship for Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine (WISTEMM) program of Department of Science and Technology (DST) in association with Indo-U.S. Science & Technology Forum (IUSSTF) have provided international exposure to several women scientists.
  • It aims to provide opportunities to Indian Women Scientists, Engineers & Technologists to undertake international collaborative research in premier institutions in U.S.A, to enhance their research capacities and capabilities.
  • The fellowship is for bright Indian Women Citizen within the age bracket of 21 to 45 years.
  • Such abroad age criteria not only cater to those who are currently pursuing research but also to those outstanding women researchers who would want to return after having taken a break onto their research path.
  • The funding support extended under the program includes stipend, airfare, health insurance, contingency and conference allowances.

2. KIRAN scheme:

  • In the year 2014, DST restructured all women specific programmes under one umbrella called Knowledge Involvement in Research Advancement through Nurturing (KIRAN).
  • The mandate of KIRAN Program is to bring gender parity in Science & Technology through gender mainstreaming.
  • Providing avenues to women scientists and technologists for capacity building, knowledge and skill enhancement at global level is another objective achieved through its international component called ‘International Fellowship for Women in Science’.
  • The scheme encompasses women-exclusive schemes and encourages them to foster their career by not only undertaking research in Science and Technology (S&T) but also focusing on S&T solutions of issues & challenges at the grassroots level for social benefits.

Conclusion:

The need of the hour is to sensitize with women and remove the sexism and institutional obstacles that prevent more women from entering the scientific field. Lack of women leaders and women role models may be preventing more women from entering the field. This can be changed if more women are given leadership positions.

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