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

ALTHOUGH new programs are planned to encourage women in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the aim is also to effectively implement existing programs, said Dr. Rajesh Gokhale, Secretary, Department of Biotechnology, Government of India. On the occasion of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science which was observed on February 11, Dr Gokhale said the focus was on empowering women to make important decisions. “To this end, we have made it mandatory that evaluation committees have adequate representation of women,” said Dr Gokhale.

Prof Shubha Tole, chairperson of the Indian Academy of Sciences’ Women in Science panel, said most female scientists in India have faced and continue to face gender-related issues during their careers. This includes sexual harassment and gender bias, as well as barriers such as discouragement, condescension, invisibility and inadequate institutional infrastructure that make the workplace undesirable for women, and administrative norms that make it less conducive for women to work. women to contribute to science.

The Academy has taken proactive steps to improve the situation and is adopting a set of constructive policies for its fellows and associates. For example, in line with guidelines recently adopted by the Indian Academy of Sciences, gender policy commitments include the promotion of gender equality as an explicit human right and the identification of potential risks and barriers for women. women in their pursuit of science and the implementation of strategies to eliminate them. “We expect all members of the community, association and Academy staff to commit to abiding by these policies and taking appropriate action,” Professor Tole said.

She further hopes that professors in leadership positions in universities across the country will use this document to formulate their own guidelines and implementation policies and actively promote such measures.

Professor Prajval Shastri, an astrophysicist and vice-chair of the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics Women in Physics Task Force, said institutions must recognize that the gender gap is primarily due to discrimination based on gender within institutions. “Therefore, they must begin to dismantle the systemic structural barriers driven by patriarchy within the profession. Interventions that aim to fix young girls and women instead of fixing evidence-based institutional structures and processes have and will make extremely slow progress,” Prof Shastri said.

According to Professor Shastri, committees must have gender diversity because it is the right thing to do. “But that in itself won’t necessarily solve discrimination, because everyone, regardless of gender, is brought up to accept sexist thinking and action. Committees further need gender diversity experts trained in a fluid framework as observers to ensure fair processes. Evidence shows that girls in India do not lack interest in science, but boys more than girls are taught to believe that girls are incompetent in science. They then grow up (and have grown up) to hold decision-making positions in science. Therefore, gender inequality awareness programs designed within a non-binary and gender-fluid framework at the high school and college level, courses in sociology, history, and philosophy of science at the college and postgraduate level are imperatives,” said Professor Shastri.

Dr Somak Raychaudhury, director of the Interuniversity Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA), said there was representation of women on various committees. “I am a firm believer in the bottom-up approach. We need to send the message to our young girls in 6th or 7th grade that science can be practiced by girls as well as by boys. Models don’t have to be old men sitting in white coats in the lab. Today there are young women doing fantastic work and this message needs to be conveyed,” said the IUCAA Director.