International Day of Women and Girls in Science 2020

In India only 14 pc of people in STEM research development institutions are women

Society

February 11, 2020

/ By / Kolkata

The United Nations (UN) observes February 11 as International Day of Women and Girls in Science and this year it is celebrating the theme Investment in Women and Girls in Science for Inclusive Green Growth.

The International Day of Women and Girls in Science is celebrated to recognise the contribution of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields and to promote and strengthen their participation. While so much is being done to celebrate this day, data from the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation states that even fewer than 30 pc of researchers in STEM field are women and approximately the same number of female students opt to pursue higher studies in STEM. Globally, only about three percent females are studying information and communications technology (ICT), about five percent pursue natural science, mathematics and statistics and eight percent in engineering, manufacturing and construction.

In India, only 14 pc of 280,000 scientists, engineers and technologists in research development institutions are women. While girls enrolling in science for higher studies in India has seen an increase, the number of women entering workplace is not in same proportion.

Why the imbalance?

In a paper titled Why are some STEM fields more gender balanced than others?, Sapna Cheryan and her colleagues of the University of Washington, Seattle discuss about the situation in US where while 60 pc of BS, MS and PhD degrees in biological and chemical sciences are from women, only 25-30 pc of them do computer science, physics and engineering. The authors have suggested three socio-psychological reasons for this imbalance – masculine nature of the sector; lack of sufficient early exposure to computers, physics and related areas compared to boys in early childhood, and gender-gap in self-efficacy. Incidentally it holds true for the situation in India as well as globally.

In her book Women in Science and Technology: Confronting Inequalities, Namrata Gupta points out that India being a patrilineal society, expects women to abide by their socially-determined duties as daughters, sisters, wives and mothers while also being an employee. She points out that women form only 10-15 pc of STEM researchers and faculty members in the IITs, CSIR, AIIMS and PGIs. In private R&D labs, there are very few women scientists.

“In India, most girls end up getting married in their twenties which is also the time for building a career. Sometimes women leave work as in few families, women are not ‘allowed’ to work, while in few cases they leave after having kids, as apparently the woman is the one supposed to take care of the home. Also there is this issue where it is considered that women can’t travel everywhere be it for safety issues or just staying away from home for longer period and leaving home unattended. Also it has been socially ingrained that a woman does the household chores and usually men are not considered responsible for that. Even I am suffering from serious health issues and considering to relocate back to my hometown, which might affect my career as I might have to take a few steps back depending on the opportunities open for me,” Sayani Das, research scholar, department of mathematics, IIT Madras tells Media India Group.

Another important cause of this might be the lack of representation or female role model to follow. Awards and recognition for Indian women scientists is still a rare thing as only 18 women (3 pc) have been honoured with the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize, the highest honour for an Indian scientist while Infosys has awarded 16 women (23 pc) among its 69 awardees till date. There are very less examples like Sunita Sarawagi, who won the Infosys Prize this year. A professor of computer science at IIT Bombay, she returned back to India from the US to conduct her work and put India on the research map of the world.

The other female winner of the Infosys Prize, Manjula Reddy, a cell biologist at the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), Hyderabad didn’t have a smooth way like her co-winner. She had enrolled into her PhD course in 1986 but could complete it only in 2002 as she had to restart her doctoral work due to bad luck as well as some compromises she chose to make for her family.

“I feel it is for all women who struggled and then came to this stage,” she said about the award, adding that she had received a lot of emails from women to tell her that the award motivated them, “In fact, many women in CCMB itself came and told me that they now felt confident to tell their parents not to pressure them to get married.”

How can it be rectified?

The first and foremost step will be to recognise the contribution of women, even if not women scientist then female science teachers who are working at the grass-root level to promote science among children. These tales might inspire young girls to take steps towards realising their own dreams. Another major change needs to be made in the ecosystem at workplaces to make women feel more welcomed to make their contribution in Indian science. As more and more women join the workforce now, balancing work and home life should not only be considered a woman’s responsibility to bind them into societal expectations. Instead of asking women to choose one, a place may be created where both her worlds coexist peacefully like her male counterparts.

The department of science & technology (DST), government of India had introduced a Women Scientist Scheme in 2002-03 to encourage women scientists to pursue research in frontier areas of science and engineering, on problems of societal relevance and to take up S&T-based internship followed by self-employment. In the year 2014, the department restructured all its women-centric programmes under one umbrella known as KIRAN (Knowledge Involvement in Research Advancement through Nurturing). Under this section, they have introduced measures like CURIE (Consolidation of University Research for Innovation and Excellence in Women Universities) to develop state-of-the-art infrastructure in women universities in order to attract, train and retain promising girl students in S&T domain. The department also took steps to attract girls and retain women in science by announcing Vigyan Jyoti scheme which arranges for girl students of classes 9, 10 and 11 to meet women scientists, from the IITs and the Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research (IISER).

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