IT WAS men who spoke about women in science. On Sunday morning, 11 people occupied the stage in the Centenary Hall of Manipur University: two women scientists as guests of honour, another who compered, three men who formed the security detail and five who delivered addresses — inaugural, keynote, presidential, chief guest and vote of thanks.
The women guests of honour, too, spoke. One conveyed the best wishes of her male boss, who could not attend, and then announced a new woman-centric fellowship. The other cited all the women-centric initiatives of the present government.
This was the inaugural session of the 7th Women Science Congress, on the sidelines of the 105th Indian Science Congress.
An hour into the programme, 11 more women joined the proceedings. Dressed in phaneks, the women, of Manipur, handed out booklets featuring abstracts of works by women scientists, and then tea and snacks to the dignitaries on stage.
First started in 2012, the Women Science Congress is in its seventh edition despite repeated calls from the women scientific community that it be scrapped. The reason they cite is allow women to present papers in the much longer ISC, as easily as men do.
“They (women) in general do not have a strong presence in science and technology,” said West Bengal Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi in his address as chief guest.
Among the five speakers, Indian Science Congress Association general secretary P P Mathur, said: “This is a very successful programme as done by ISCA, in fact women have all the important roles to be developing the society. But total number of scientific population as far as women is concerned is much lower than expected.”
He added, “There must be some kind of forum which should address the problems so that participation of women in science can further increase. Hope discussions will take place, guidelines will be framed and certain facilitatory processes can be put in place so women can feel empowered and can go for scientific career as a whole.”
Manipur University vice chancellor Adya Prasad Pandey told the audience that the general president of the 105th ISC, Achyuta Samanta, could not make it to the event. “Women not only can prove to be a good scientist, they should also play other important role. They can show light to society, fuel lamp of the research and in others also, so this conference is very important conference,” he said.
“Yesterday, Professor [Ashok] Saxena was saying that nowadays the acceptance for pure science is reducing in so many areas, the reason behind that is our female scientists are not taking initiative to tell the people that this area is the only area which will show path of development for the country and for the future generations.”
Ashok Saxena is former general president of ISC. “Like Madam Curie and several others have shown, it is possible for women to contribute significantly in science and thereby improving our society, not only this but a child learns most from his or her mother.. She can share her experience and knowledge with her child,” Saxena said.
Saxena noted that in the 105-year-old history of ISC, “Only four women have been general presidents… This (Women Science Congress) is one of the best places to get motivated.This forum should identify and document sincere work by women, and famous scientists. this forum should bring out action plan to bring out parity.”
Governor Tripathi said: “Women are becoming aware of their rights, trying best to improve and upgrade their intellectual power, positive value assertion to create her own definition of herself and view herself as a complete human being without any gender discrimination.” Congratulating the ICSA for this “remarkable endeavour”, he said: “Women empowerment through science and technology, has the potential to enable them to realise their talents, and power and shape there life in accordance with their aspirations. Indian women have signficant contributions, however there representation in the field is less than expected.”
After the event, guest of honour Namita Gupta, from the Department of Science & Technology, told The Indian Express that she was glad there were “at least two women” on the stage. “Change happens slowly. We started the DST women scientist fellowship with one component, and today we have six components. So things will change slowly,” she said.
In the audience was Dr Jyotsna Meshram, a scientist in organic chemistry from Nagpur University, who attends every science congress. “I think we have become so de-sensitised that I don’t even notice a male-heavy panel nowadays,” she laughed.
“Science conferences and fora can no longer afford to avoid pressing issues,” Nandita Jayaraj, who runs a web platform chronicling the lives of women in STEM, told The Indian Express. “In the last couple of months, there has been mass discontent among women in science in the light of two prominent sexual harassment cases that have come to light. A separate women’s congress is an easier way to ensure representation than to ensure that there is diversity in the whole congress. It’s not really effective or sending the right message,” said Jayaraj.