|Demand of the question
Introduction. Contextual introduction.
Body. Discuss various reasons for the gender gap in STEM-related fields. Measures to improve women participation in these fields.
Conclusion. Way forward.
Gender inequality is a big issue in India. India stands at 112th position in the latest Global Gender Gap Index. There is less participation of girls especially in Science, technology, engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Fields. For instance, IIT in 2016 got only 8% female students. This shows a clear gap when it comes to participation in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics)-related fields.
Various reasons for the gender gap in STEM-related fields:
- Mindset: A major factor responsible for this is the mindset that boys are better at science and girls are not. Women are still considered less efficient to men when it comes to STEM related fields is a major misconception.
- Fewer role models: Role models many times are a factor in making career choices. However, there are fewer female role models in the fields of science, math, or engineering for young female students to follow. Moreover, our textbooks too rarely talk about these role models.
- Less women specific science institutes: Only 11% colleges in India which are exclusively for women, majority of which offer arts and commerce rather than science.
- Patriarchy: When comes the question of pursuing a career in science, the entrenched patriarchy in society holds women back. There are patriarchal attitudes in hiring practices or awarding fellowships and grants etc. A male-dominated work environment and gender insensitivity are additional burdens for women scientists.
- Economic factors: This is another major constraint for women in pursuing science. Even for families with greater resources, economic considerations affect the pursuit of science degree as a science which is generally more expensive than an arts or a commerce degree.
- Considered as Burden: Families expect daughters to marry and assume obligations to their husband’s family. Many families think that a daughter’s education would primarily benefit her in-laws rather than her natal family. Such families traditionally view boys’ education differently from girls’.
Government of India initiatives for promoting women in science:
- Women Scientist Scheme: Women Scientist Scheme aims to provide opportunities to women scientists and technologists who desire to return to mainstream science after a break in career due to social responsibilities.
- Knowledge Involvement in Research Advancement through Nurturing (KIRAN): Department of Science & Tech. restructured all women specific programmes under one umbrella called KIRAN. The mandate of the KIRAN programme is to bring gender parity in S&T through gender mainstreaming.
- S&T for women: Science and Technology for women programme was initiated in 1981–82 with the mandate to promote gender equality and empower women at grass root level with inputs of S&T through development, adaptation, adoption, transfer, demonstration of appropriate and successful technologies.
- Consolidation of university research for innovation and excellence in women universities’ (CURIE): KIRAN is involved in taking proactive measures through the component- CURIE, to develop state-of-the-art infrastructure in women universities to attract, train and retain promising girl students in S&T domains.
- Women technology parks: Women technology parks (WTPs) act as a single window hub for convergence of diversified technologies, leading to socio-economic development of women through capacity building and adoption of location-specific technologies.
- Training and capacity building: Several training programmes specifically for capacity building of women scientists working in various sectors covering multifarious themes are conducted in partnership with premier institutions including the National Programme for Training of Women Scientists and Technologists in the Government that provided opportunity to over 1000 women scientists to upgrade their knowledge base and skills.
Measures to improve women participation in these fields:
- Holistic approach: Getting more girls and women into STEM education and careers requires holistic and integrated responses that reach across various sectors. Society has to understand that women as an important human resource and can play an important role in economic growth.
- Private participation: Companies can invest in building female talent in a multitude of ways, some of which include providing more internship opportunities for women, giving STEM scholarships to meritorious yet economically backward girls, and focusing on retaining women employees in the workforce to maintain better gender ratios.
- Spread awareness: Awareness needs to be spread among parents that pursuing science for girls is not as difficult as it is presumed. With family support and encouragement, girls can be high achievers in science.
- Mentoring: Along with family support, having teachers who mentor and encourage girls in STEM subjects can have more impact. Mentorship programmes for girls at secondary and senior secondary levels are the need of the hour.
- Make education gender sensitive: There is a need to promote positive stereotypes of roles of women in textbooks. It is important that when girls come out of school, they have the dream to carve a path for themselves. Education for boys at school level should be in the direction of making them gender sensitive.
- STEM scholarships to meritorious girls: Scholarships to meritorious girls at school levels can provide a boost to girls to pursue science at graduate and postgraduate levels and take up science as a career.
Empowering women in science and technology and their full and equal participation is one of the core objectives mentioned in the Science and Technology Policy of the Govt. of India, 2003. Accordingly, there are a number of schemes, mostly in the form of scholarships, introduced by the government. However, evidence suggests that not much progress has been made. There is a need to invest on supporting infrastructure, incentivising institutions to promote gender equity, transparency in decision making etc. to bridge the persisting gender imbalance in STEM major.