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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

International Day of Women and Girls in Science: In India, old hurdles, new solutions for gender equality in STEM

As per new guidelines adopted by the Indian Academy of Sciences, gender policy commitments include promoting gender equality as an explicit human right.

Written by Anuradha Mascarenhas | Pune |
Updated: February 15, 2022 3:31:09 pm
Prof Shubha Tole, chairperson of Women in Science panel of The Indian Academy of Sciences, said that most women in science in India have faced, and continue to face, gender related problems in the course of their career.

EVEN AS new programmes are being planned to encourage women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics STEM, the aim also is to implement existing ones effectively, Dr Rajesh Gokhale, Secretary, Department of Biotechnology, Government of India said. On the occasion of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science that was observed on February 11, Dr Gokhale said that the focus is on empowering women to take important decisions . “Towards that end, we have made it mandatory that evaluation committees should have adequate representation of women,” Dr Gokhale said.

Prof Shubha Tole, chairperson of Women in Science panel of The Indian Academy of Sciences, said that most women in science in India have faced, and continue to face, gender related problems in the course of their career. This includes sexual harassment and gender bias, as well as hurdles such as discouragement, condescension, invisibility, and inadequate institutional infrastructure that make the workplace unwelcome for women, and administrative norms that make it less conducive for women to contribute to science.

The Academy has taken proactive steps to improve the situation and is adopting a constructive set of policies for its Fellows and Associates. For instance, as per the guidelines recently adopted by the Indian Academy of Sciences, gender policy commitments include promoting gender equality as an explicit human right and identifying potential risks and hindrances to women in their pursuit of science and implementing strategies to eliminate them. “We expect the entire Fellowship, Associateship and staff members of the Academy to pledge to uphold these policies and take appropriate actions,” Prof Tole said.

She further hoped that faculty in leadership positions in universities across the country would use this document to formulate their own guidelines and implementation policies and actively promote such steps.

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Prof Prajval Shastri, astrophysicist and vice chair Women in Physics Working Group of the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics said that institutions need to acknowledge that the gender gap is primarily due to gender-based discrimination within institutions. “Therefore, they need to set about dismantling the patriarchy-driven systemic structural barriers within the profession. Interventions that aim to fix young girls and women instead of fixing institutional structures and processes based on evidence, have made, and will make progress extremely slow,” Prof Shastri said.

According to Prof Shastri, committees need to have gender diversity because it’s the right thing to do. “But that by itself will not necessarily address discrimination, because everyone, regardless of gender is raised to be accepting of sexist thought and action. Committees additionally need gender diversity experts trained in a gender-fluid framework as observers to ensure fair processes. Evidence shows that in India there is no lack of interest in science among girls, but boys more than girls are learning to believe that girls are incompetent in science. They then grow up (and have grown up) to occupy decision-making positions in science. Therefore, gender-inequity awareness programmes designed in a gender-non-binary gender-fluid framework at the high-school and college-level, courses on the sociology, history and philosophy of science at the college and post-graduate level are imperative,” Prof Shastri said.

Dr Somak Raychaudhury, Director of Inter University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA) said there has been representation of women on various committees . “I am a firm believer in the bottom up approach. We need to get the message across to our young girls in Class 6 or 7 that science can be done both by girls and boys. Role models need not be old men sitting in white coats at the lab. Today there are young women doing some fantastic work and that message needs to be told,” the IUCAA director said.

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