In News: The appointment of Dr N Kalaiselvi as the first woman director general of India’s largest research and development organisation, the 80-year-old Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), underlined a significant trend — official data show the participation of women in science research has been generally increasing over the past two decades in the country.
- More than a quarter — 28% — of participants in extramural R&D projects in 2018-19 were women, up from 13% in 2000-01 due to various initiatives taken by successive governments.
- The number of women principal investigators in R&D had risen more than four times from 232 in 2000-01 to 941 in 2016-17.
- The percentage of women among researchers went from 13.9% in 2015 to 18.7% in 2018, the data show.
- The increase in women’s participation, especially in research, is due to a combination of government programmes and natural progression.
- Results of the All India Survey on Higher Education (AISHE) 2019 showed a 53% and 55% participation of women in science education at the Bachelor’s and Master’s levels respectively, numbers that are comparable with many developed countries. But at doctoral level, women graduates (44%) lagged behind men (56%).
- Department of Science and Technology supported Gender Advancement for Transforming Institutions (GATI) project, based on the UK’s Athena Swan Charter, was introduced.
- In the first phase of GATI, 30 educational and research institutes have been selected by DST, with a focus on women’s participation in leadership roles, faculty, and the numbers of women students and researchers.
What are the Causes for Under-representation?
Stereotypes: The paucity of women in STEM is not merely due to skill inadequacy, but also a result of assigned stereotypical gender roles.
- It is still considered okay to judge the parental or life-partner status of a woman scientist while deciding to hire her or give her a leadership position, overlooking her merit.
Patriarchal and Societal Causes: There are patriarchal attitudes in hiring practices or awarding fellowships and grants etc.
- Matters related to marriage and childbirth, responsibility related to running of households and elder care further hinder the representation of women in these ‘non-conventional’ fields.
Lack of Role Models: Lack of women leaders and women role models may be preventing more women from entering these fields.
Absence of Supportive Institutional Structure:
- Women leave the workforce, due to the absence of supportive institutional structures during pregnancy, safety issues in fieldwork and workplace.
Initiatives launched to Promote Women in Science
- Vigyan Jyoti Programme was launched to address the underrepresentation of women in different fields of Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) in the country.
- Initially, it was introduced at the school level wherein meritorious girl students of Class 9-12 were being encouraged to pursue higher education and career in the STEM field.
- Recently, the programme was extended to 100 districts in its 2nd phase.
- KIRAN scheme was launched in 2014-15 to provide opportunities for women scientists in moving up the academic and administrative ladder.
- The Department of Science & Technology has also additionally established Artificial Intelligence (AI) labs in women universities with the goal to foster AI innovations and to prepare skilled manpower for AI-based jobs in future.
- Under the Indo-US Fellowship for Women in STEMM (WISTEMM) program, women scientists can work in research labs in the US.
- The Gender Advancement for Transforming Institutions (GATI) program was launched to develop a comprehensive Charter and a framework for assessing Gender Equality in STEM.
- The problem needs to be addressed at two levels – at societal level which requires long term effort and the policy and institutional level, which can be started with immediate effect.
- There is an immediate need to invest in supporting infrastructure, incentivising institutions to promote gender equity, transparency in decision making to bridge the persisting gender imbalance in STEM majors.
- However, schools need to break the ‘gendered notions of intelligence’ and encourage girls not only to take science at secondary and higher secondary level but also to pursue their career in STEM.
- This would help not only in women being able to chase their dreams but science itself would be benefitted from other points of view.
While the situation is definitely improving, and the increase in numbers of women in STEM is indicative of this, the road is yet long. We have a long way to go.
Source: Indian express