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Explained: India’s push for gender equity in science

One of the focuses of the new Science, Technology and Innovation Policy, currently being drafted by the Department of Science and Technology (DST), will be to increase the participation of women in science.

Written by Esha Roy | New Delhi | Updated: November 29, 2020 9:59:24 am
India’s push for gender equity in scienceThe DST has also found that women are either not promoted, or very often drop out mid-career to attend to their families. (Representational image)

One of the focuses of the new Science, Technology and Innovation Policy, currently being drafted by the Department of Science and Technology (DST), will be to increase the participation of women in science. To this end, the DST will incorporate a system of grading institutes depending on the enrolment of women and the advancement of the careers of women faculty and scientists. The concept borrows from a programme started by the UK in 2005 called the Athena SWAN (Scientific Women’s Academic Network), which is now being adopted by many countries. The DST will soon launch a pilot, which the British Council has helped it develop.

What is Athena SWAN?

The Athena SWAN Charter is an evaluation and accreditation programme in the UK enhancing gender equity in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM). Participating research organisations and academic institutions are required to analyse data on gender equity and develop action plans for improvement. The programme recognises such efforts with bronze, silver or gold accreditation.

Institutions that sign up commit to addressing unequal gender representation; tackling the gender pay gap; removing the obstacles faced by women in career development and progression; discriminatory treatment often experienced by trans people; gender balance of committees and zero tolerance for bullying and sexual harassment.

How well has it worked?

In 2019, a report by Ortus Economic Research in partnership with Loughborough University found that 93% of participants believed the programme had a positive impact on gender issues, 78% said it had impacted equality and diversity issues positively, and 78% noted a positive impact on the career progression of women.

In 2011, the Chief Medical Officer for England linked the funding of the National Health Service and National Institute for Health Research with the Athena SWAN award to encourage and incentivise medical schools to empower women’s advancement and leadership. This policy decision led to a 400% increase in Athena SWAN applications from medical and medical-related departments.

A study in BMJ found that in the five-year period since the scheme was started, participating institutions had a higher number of female leaders than non-Athena institutions, and gender diversity in leadership positions also improved

Today, the programme has 170 member institutions across UK and Ireland. Australia has adopted it under the name of SAGE (Science Australia Gender Equity) and has 40 institutions affiliated. Canada, the US and India are currently in transitional phases in implementing it.

Why does India need such a programme?

In India, it will be called GATI (Gender Advancement through Transforming Institutions).

India is ranked 108 out of 149 countries in the 2018 Global Gender Gap report. According to DST figures, in 2015-16, the share of women involved in scientific research and development was 14.71% — after it had actually increased from 13% in 2000-2001 to 29% in 2014-15.

The DST has also found that women are either not promoted, or very often drop out mid-career to attend to their families. 📣 Express Explained is now on Telegram

What are the challenges ahead?

To get as many institutions as possible to sign up, the DST will need to manoeuvre around government red tape as most universities, barring the IITs and NITs, are run and funded by the government as well. This means that these institutions don’t have direct control over institutional policies, recruitment and promotions. The DST has tied up with National Assessment and Accreditation Council, under the UGC, aiming to push gender equity through them.

The DST plans to run intensive gender sensitisation programmes, especially for the top leadership of institutions, and work within existing rules such as pushing for women members on selection committees during recruitment processes. In the future, the DST is likely to consider policy changes such as those brought about in the UK providing financial incentives through grants to institutes.

What is the pilot being launched?

For the pilot, 25 institutes will be shortlisted to carry out self-assessment on gender equity in their departments. The British Council is assisting the DST and will facilitate collaboration between selected institutions under GATI with Athena SWAN-accredited institutions in the UK, with each institute here having a partner institute in the UK for guidance.

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