Saturday, May 31, 2008

Women in Science in India

Readers of this blog probably realize that it's heavily USA and English-speaking-world-centric. That might obscure the fact that women scientists in Asia are struggling with many of the same issues as women here in the US. For example, in March there was a conference on "Showcasing Cutting-Edge Sciene by Indian Women Scientists" held in Delhi that was attended by 1,000 delegates. The attendees came up with a number of suggestions that could improve the number of women scientists in India:

Interestingly, the questionnaire distributed among conference participants elicited diverse and strong views on major pitfalls in the system, and remedial measures for improving career opportunities and working conditions. Observing there is a “leaky pipeline” in women’s careers in science, with the major leak at post-PhD levels when the roles of wives and mothers take centre-stage, participants felt that an active support system was required to prevent such leakage. Facilities for housing, crèches, day-care centres for the elderly, women’s cells at workplaces, flexi-timings, part-time jobs, and opportunities for re-entry should be provided, said the delegates.
It was also suggested that there be additional bureaucratic remedies as well, such as "gender audits". You can read a more detailed report on the recommendations from the conference at IndianWomenScientists.in .

Apparently some changes are already being made:
The minister also announced a package of concessions. These included flexible working hours for women with small children, funding for crèche facilities, construction of women’s residential blocks, and annual research grants up to Rs 20 lakh for five years for young women scientists. In addition, the DST also recently launched a special fellowship scheme for women scientists to enable them to continue after a break in career. It has also set up a Women Scientist Cell, which holds gender sensitisation workshops and is preparing a manual on gender issues in technology transfer.
Several women scientists were also honored at the conference:
  • Women Bioscientists' Awards to Dr Sangita Mukhopadhyay (Centre of DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics, Hyderabad), Dr Mitali Mukherji (Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology, Delhi) and Dr Sujatha Sharma (All-India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi).
  • award for women's development through application of science and technology went to Dr Vijaylakshmi of the Delhi-based NGO Development Alternatives, "for developing low-cost water-testing kits and water filters for rural areas."
  • Dr Rani Bang, founder of Maharashtrabased NGO Society for Education, Action and Research in Community Health, received the award for providing community-based healthcare in a tribal area.
A number of other women scientists gave presentations as well (pdf). However, as one of the participants pointed out, one successful conference won't necessarily result in long term changes. Only time will tell.

Image: The Hindu Business Line. "President Pratibha Patil and Union Minister Kapil Sibal seen felicitating Dr Vijaylakshmi."

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1 comments:

orsenthil said...

Nice article.
Also, the head of India's next moon mission is a Woman.