As Mint’s Monday story, “Bureaucracy, glass ceiling queer pitch for India’s women scientists” shows, the results of science don’t depend on gender—but apparently everything else related to science does.
With women comprising less than 15% of the Indian scientific pool, the gender gap is yawning and a telltale account of how science education and research is conducted and promoted in the country. Ironically, a series of scientific studies have recently shown that the gender gap in sciences as well as math is a result of culture rather than biology.
India has some grant initiatives to bring the women dropouts back into mainstream science—one of which spends Rs40 crore a year—but the result is far from satisfactory. The starting point, besides policies, should be organizational culture and unwritten rules that make it difficult for women to fit in. For instance, there is no rule that couples cannot be employed in the same research institution, but most abide by this in spirit. Women scientists—and even some men scientists— say this is the single greatest deterring factor in getting them gainfully employed, since most are married to a man in the same field.
How difficult will it be for research institutes or laboratories to advertise: This lab does not discriminate on gender or marital status, and couples should apply?
While all three academies of science and the national funding agencies in India have some women programme or the other, they are tantamount to mere tokenism. Women scientists say they often feel they are invited to join a particular committee or forum out of some mandatory “quota”. Why can’t they be considered as scientists who happen to be women?
The gender status quo in science and technology is unacceptable, especially when excellence in these fields is dependent on education, ability and hard work—qualities which both men and women share equally.
Scientific enterprise, with its inherent uncertainties, is anyway ruthless: Competition and stringent peer reviews already make it difficult for researchers to even take a small break in their career. The least the custodians of science can do is to make it women-friendly.
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