New Delhi: Expressing concerns over under-representation of women in science, union minister for science and technology Dr Harsh Vardhan said only 13.9% of the scientists conducting research in the country were women.

“It is an admitted fact that women face discriminations during leadership evaluation and appointments to higher positions. There is a deep-rooted gender bias and stereotypes which hinders their career in science," said Dr Vardhan as he pressed upon the need to expand funding to research being undertaken by women scientists, which he said was ‘lesser’ at higher levels.

The union minister was speaking at the inaugural session of the two-day national conference on technological empowerment of women organized by National Academy of Sciences, India (NASI) on occasion of International Women’s Day.

“There are 2.82 lakh scientists in the country, out of which only 13.9 % are women, which is a cause of concern. Women are discouraged at young age to pursue sciences and technology which are still considered masculine subjects," said the minister, asserting that increased participation of women in various fields has led to 60% growth in GDP and therefore, science and technology has also been made part of the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao campaign.

Former secretary, Department of Biotechnology and NASI-Distinguished Chair, Dr. Manju Sharma, highlighted the scarce representation of women in agricultural research, while adding that biotechnology had witnessed increased representation of women in recent years.

“There is barely any woman whose name figures when I sit in the award committee of ICAR. There is a major dearth of women scientists in the whole system, be it research, evaluation, fellowship of the academy or any decision making process," said Sharma, who was also the first woman president of NASI, the country’s oldest science academy.

As discussions ranged from biological differences among men and women affecting gender-equality to empowering women to be leaders in science, women researchers at the conferenec pointed out that the maximum drop-outs among women scientists were not after college, but after PhD.

“We found out in a recent survey that maximum women researchers pursued PhDs, but dropped out after completing their PhD, due to family obligations. It is a major factor that had led to under-representation of women," said Dr Rohini Godbole, Professor, Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore.

The two-day conference focussed on inclusion of women in science and technology, especially in improving the livelihood of women in rural areas, with eminent geneticist Professor M.S. Swaminathan asserting upon the need to include women in addressing issues of malnutrition in the country.

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