Closing the gender gap in science
India celebrates National Science Day on February 28 every year to mark C.V. Raman’s discovery of the scattering of light. This year, the theme was Women in Science.
A progressive trend –
- 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.
- India is seeing more women in engineering today than ever before. The role of women engineers in the launch of the Indian Space Research Organisation’s second moon mission, Chandrayaan-2, is now legendary.
Contribution of women in science –
The history of science shows that many revolutionary discoveries were made by women scientists. The most famously known woman scientist is Marie Curie. But contemporary times are full of examples: Rosalind Franklin, Barbara McClintock, and Jennifer Doudna, to name a few. There are many in India too, whose contributions we must highlight in textbooks.
- 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.
- This can be changed if more women are given leadership positions. Lack of women leaders and women role models may be preventing more women from entering the field.
- The 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 Indian Science Academies combined, only about 10% are women Fellows.
- 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.
Way forward –
- 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.
- 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.
- In India, we have many examples of women researchers who are involved in exciting scientific experiments. It is imperative that we understand and remove the sexism and institutional obstacles that prevent more women from entering the scientific field.
Source – The Hindu
QUESTION – Discuss how we can close the gender gap that exists in our scientific domain. Also examine the contributions made by women in the field of science.