SAYING THAT that women in the scientific community of India were the “largest minority”, Union Minister for Textiles Smriti Irani Saturday said science was gender neutral but “what is not neutral is the capacity of women to get scientific opportunities.”
“Of the 2.8 lakh scientists and engineers employed in research and development institutions across the country, only 14 per cent are women. You come to a figure of around 39,000 plus which means the female scientific community in the country is the largest minority. The data shows 81 per cent women in STEM field say there is gender bias in performance evaluation. How will you be paid more when those who evaluate you have a disinclination towards your gender. Where does that disinclination begin,” said Irani while addressing the inaugural session of the Women Science Congress at the 106th Indian Science Congress.
Irani said the problem begins right at the point when parents while raising children give different types of toys to boys and girls. “That’s where the gender bias begins. The fulcrum of Science is the desire to question and the desire to explore. How many girls in the audience were told “zyada mat bolo” (don’t ask too much) when you asked why or how,” she said.
Stating that gender parity was not responsibility of women alone but it is equally a responsibility of men as well to create a dignified system for women, Irani in the context of women participation in Science said, “these doors have been shut for long, break them if you have to and enter into a new world which looks at Science as gender neutral.”
Calling for a “just and vibrant future” for women scientists, Irani said next time there should be “an exhibition on what future will look for women in Science” and asked technologists to deliberate on how science can be used to aide gender parity. “I’m glad Indian Science Congress is celebrating the potential of Indian women in Science but it is incumbent upon us as a community and families to promote the desire to question and the desire to explore among children especially girls,” she said.
Irani said language was the “biggest challenge” in terms of dissemination of scientific education as most studies and research papers are in English. “If you look at data and studies, English is the lingua franca in Science. You are told angrezi nahi aati toi seekh lo (Learn English language if you don’t know it). Easier said than done,” she said, adding according to the official data “96.7 per cent of our country’s population resort to 22 schedule languages as their first language or mothertongue” but, she further said, we expect people to learn science in higher educational institutions in English when all their life they have used Indian languages.
Irani called upon the scientific community to propagate “translation of some of the best science journals and new scientific studies” for their further dissemination in schools “so that love for science can be embedded at a very early stage.”
Earlier, Irani also cited an example related to lack of women in scientific field. She said when she was asked to inaugurate a huge robotics prototype at the Lovely Professional University (LPU) on Saturday, there was no girl student who had been part of the project. “I asked for girls but was told ‘the project is called Metal Magna and that is the (only) feminine part of our project.” When I enquired with the teacher, the teacher said mechanical engineering main zyada ladkiyan mili nai (not many girls chose mechanical engineering),” she said.