[Kurukshetra November Summary] S&T: Towards Women Empowerment

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Introduction

On the occasion of the Independence Day on 15th August, 2022, honorable Prime Minister of India emphasised that women power is significant for the growth of India and noted the contribution of ‘Nari Shakti‘ in the fields of law, education, science, law enforcement among other. Globally, governments and organisations are focusing on promoting gender equality and women empowerment to untap the potential of women as the precious human capital.  The first steps were taken under the UN Conference on Women in Mexico (that marked 1975 as International Women’s Year) followed by the 4th UN World Conference on Women held at Beijing in 1995. The objectives of the conference highlighted full gender equality and integrating women in developmental activities by creating opportunities for full participation at diverse workplaces. The Government of India has taken several steps to promote participation of women in the field of science and technology.

Women in Science and Technology in India (1950-2000’s)

Women have been underrepresented in the the field of science and technology. The First Science and Technology Policy in India (Scientific Policy Resolution, 1958) acknowledged women’s role in Science and Technology and stated, “To ensure that the creative talent of men and women is encouraged and finds full scope in scientific activity“.  However, Women remained absent from research and technology due to various sociocultural and economic constraints.

In the 1960s-80s, very few women progressed to top positions. Like EK Janaki Ammal, who led Botanical Survey of India. The three national academies of science (INSA, NASI, IASc) had a small proportion of elected women scientists. Women scientists were not selected for any awards due to gender bias of selection committees dominated by men. Till early 2000s, only 8 women scientists had won the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize (instituted in 1958). Gender bias restricted career advancement opportunities for women. Thus women were missing in leadership and top administrative positions.

Winds of Change – The 21st Century for Women in S&T

The first focused move on women empowerment in science and technology was when Dr. M S Swaminathan initiated a chapter on ‘Science and Technology for Women‘ in the Sixth Five Year Plan (1980-85). The chapter was prepared by Dr. Manju Sharma. She was the first woman president of National Academy of Sciences, India (NASI) and Secretary, Department of Biotechnology (DBT).

The Government declared 2001 as the year of empowerment of women. The (then) Prime Minister noted that “Developing countries that have made remarkable social progress, have done so primarily through the empowerment of women, which has had enormous impact in terms of literacy, health and economic well-being of families“.

The Science and Technology leadership focused on women enabling policies and initiated implementation of programmes to increase participation of women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) disciplines. The Science and Technology Policy 2003 emphasised; “To promote the empowerment of women in all science and technology activity and ensure their full and equal participation“. A few important scientific and technological empowerment goals were identified: (a) Capacity Building; (b) Promoting Gender Neutral Workspaces; (c) Providing Access to information to women in science and technology; (d) Increasing the number of girls in science and providing ways to overcome the challenges of the issue of ‘Leaky Pipeline’ at tertiary and mid-career level. (The ‘leaky pipeline’ metaphor describes the way in which women become underrepresented minorities in the STEM fields).

Leaky Pipeline Problem Women Empowerment in Science and Technology UPSC

Source: How the entire scientific community can confront gender bias in the workplace, Kathleen E. Grogan, University of Cincinnati, US

Initiatives taken by the Government
National Task Force for Women in Science

In 2002, Prof. MVS Valiathan, the President of Indian Nation Science Academy (INSA) constituted a committee to examine the status of women in science in India and to investigate factors influencing their participation. The recommendations of the INSA report on ‘Careers of Women in Science’ prompted the Scientific Advisory Committee of the Prime Minister (PM-SAC) to constitute a National Task Force for Women in Science in December 2005 under the Department of Science and Technology (DST). The task force identified several issues like (a) Female students in science were less than the ideal fraction of 50%; (b) Engineering had the fewest women; recruitment policies and family responsibilities led to a “leaky pipeline” with the number of women drastically decreasing from post-doctoral to regular faculty/scientist positions.

Due to these disparities, there were few women science leaders in administrative and policymaking bodies.

The Task Force made several recommendations like: (a) Recruitment of deserving women scientists in institutions; (b) Selection/hiring committees should include women scientists; (c) Committee Members to avoid asking questions with inherent gender bias; (d) Age relaxation for exceptional female scientists; (e) Refresher training/mentorship programmes for career advancement and re-entry to enable women who took break for family reasons; (f) Women-friendly workplaces with creches, and safeguarding policies against sexual harassment; (g) Promote scientific temper among schoolgirls, summer/winter science camps and interaction with renowned women scientists (role models); (h) New policies with focus on maternity leave; (i) Establishing gender units in State S&T councils; (j) Establishing women’s universities in States with low numbers of women in science; (k) Developing avenues to promote entrepreneurship and self-employment for women scientists.

KIRAN (Knowledge Involvement in Research Advancement through Nurturing)

It is a DST division created in 2014 to encompass all women-exclusive schemes to bring gender parity in S&T, and provide a framework for gender mainstreaming.

It supports Women Scientist Scheme (WOS, launched in 2002-2003), Curie Program (2008-09) and the more recently launched ‘mobility scheme’ .

Women Scientist Scheme (WOS)

WOS-A provides opportunities to women researchers who have taken a break in a career primarily due to family responsibilities, relocation, etc for pursuing research in basic or applied sciences in frontier areas of science and engineering.

WOS-B provides grant support to women scientists for developing S&T solutions for solving grassroots level issues and promoting social benefit.

WOS-C provides a one-year internship in the domain of Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs).

CURIE Programme (2008-09): Promoting S&T infrastructure

National Task Force had recommended to increase the number of women in S&T by providing them with cutting-edge infrastructure and promoting scientific skills training. The DST initiated a special programme called “Consolidation of University Research for Innovation and Excellence in Women Universities” (CURIE) and supported 9 women’s universities to improve the R&D infrastructure.

At present, the programme is expanding via a new component ‘Support for Women PG Colleges’ with a focus to improve STEM education and research in postgraduate colleges to provide quality science education to girls in small cities.

Mobility Scheme

Many women scientists face difficulties due to relocation (marriage, transfer of spouse to a different location etc.) and struggle to search career options at a new place. Mobility scheme offers a contractual research award towards conducting independent research in any location. This enables women to undertake research during early phases of their career while fulfilling key domestic responsibilities.

Biotechnology Career Advancement and Re-orientation Programme (BioCARe)

It was launched by DBT in 2011 for career development of employed/unemployed women researchers up to 45 years of age by providing extramural research grant support. This scheme is focused towards bringing women researchers to mainstream science after a career break. So far, 361 women scientists have benefitted of which 10-12% have been successfully employed by research institutions.

Role of National Science Academies

The three science academies initiated multiple steps to empower women in science. IASc has published multiple books to promote interest of girls in science (like ‘Lilavati’s Daughters: The Woman Scientist of India’ and ‘A Girls Guide to life in Science’). IASc has also focused on mentoring women scientists to realise their full potential and to generate awareness on gender issues in science and academia.

The three science academies together established a committee that reports to the President on the status of women empowerment in science as well as the role of women scientists in bringing technology to the rural women to uplift them. An inter academy panel on Women in Science in India was constituted in June 2015 that came out with a vision document called, ‘A roadmap for Women in Science and Technology‘, which led to constitution of a ‘Standing Committee on Women in Science’ by DST in 2016.

Application of S&T for Women’s Welfare

Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR) and NASI have developed various initiatives and awards to honour scientists and technicians who design new solutions to reduce rural women’s labour in agri-based livelihoods.

‘S&T for Women’ is a DST programme launched in 1981-1982 to engage women scientists in research and development to improve quality of life of rural women. Since its inception, more than 2000 projects and 500 technologies have been sponsored to empower rural women. Rural women are given access to technology solutions and trained to use innovative approaches to improve their working conditions. Scientists are encouraged to develop technologies for rural women in hilly, coastal, and arid regions e.g., one area of intervention is R&D in post-harvest technology (like thrashing) to improvise tools used by rural women for ease of use.

Women Technology Parks are another innovative concept that highlight women empowerment through S&T. They represent a link between rural women workforce and scientists. Their key mandate is to promote technology development and its demonstration and adaptation to promote women’s employment in the area of dairy, poultry, sheep and goat farming, aquaculture, floriculture, mushroom cultivation, value added products, fruit and vegetable-based products, bee farming, bio fertiliser production, coir and jute products, vermiculture and vermicompositing etc. These parks are strategically located near women farmers’ community to facilitate demonstration of methodology by scientists.

A national award for ‘Women’s Development via Application of Science and Technology’ honours individuals/institutions that have made significant S&T advancements for women empowerment at grass root level.

The DBT also supported setting up a Golden Jubilee Women’s Biotech Park at Siruseri, Kanchipuram District in 2001. The Park is an entrepreneurial facility primarily supporting first generation women entrepreneurs and women scientists and provides support towards making small-scale investments to independently take up production of value added products such as herbal cosmetics and essential oil, bio-pesticides, bio-fertilisers, ready to eat snacks etc.

Application of science and technology have also been sought for providing a healthy lifestyle to rural women with special focus on nutritional needs, hygiene and sanitation.

Environment conservation is also an issue that hugely impacts lives of rural women and thus scientists are nudged to undertake environmental sustainability projects with a provision for realising the objectives by involving the rural

Vigyan Jyoti, is a programme introduced by DST (in 2019-20) with an aim to provide exposure to meritorious young girls in tier 2 cities and remote and rural areas to pursue a career in STEM. The programme promises hand-holding and mentoring for girls from their school stage till PhD. Activities such as science camps, special lectures, counselling of parents and interaction with women scientists are planned for girls as a part of early exposure to science and related careers. 100 Jawahar Navodaya Vdiyalays (JNVs) are currently acting as ‘Vigyan Jyoti Knowledge Centres‘ to girls from Govt. schools, of small cities and rural areas.

GATI (Gender Advancement for Transforming Institutions) has been established by DST as a mission mode programme. Its mission is to encourage universities, colleges and other educational and research institutions to prioritise Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) in their operations. This will help them attract the best possible talent. The Institutions need to overcome cultural and systemic blockers that impede advancement of women. Institutions will be required to create policies, practises, and action plans and will be assessed for GATI Award.

Conclusion

Attention to women’s concerns has revealed the value of cognitive diversity in the scientific process. There are still many ‘Firsts’ to be conquered, for example recently Dr N Kalaiselvi became the first women Director-General, CSIR and Secretary, DSIR. With the ongoing efforts, the coming years shall hopefully see S&T workspaces where women representation is normalised in all roles starting from entry to reaching higher echelons of leadership and policy making.

Syllabus: GS I, Social Empowerment; GS II, Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes.

Source: Kurukshetra November 2022, DST

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