Page 18 - ScienceIndia Magazine March 2021
P. 18

     COVER STORY
15 per cent of the Indian research and development workforce. The biggest imbalance is in fields such as computer science, architecture and physics, and the smallest is in biological sci- ences and medicine.
GENDER GAPS IN STEM
One of the major obstacles in gender equality in STEM is gender stereotyping where the society fixes the roles and tasks that women and men have to perform. These assumptions create inequality, impact career opportunities and lead to work place segregation, thereby resulting in gender imbalance. Gender STEM gaps perpetuate through three key factors: structural, cultural and personal. As far as structural factors are concerned, STEM fields are often viewed as masculine, and teachers and parents often underestimate girls’ abilities. This starts as early as preschool, e.g. anxiety for mathematics. STEM is largely male dominated, inflexible and encompasses exclusionary study and work culture. Process of socialisation, conflict between biological and career clock, family respon- sibilities, lack of support from family, weak network support for coping ‘chilly climate’ at workplace, time conflicts and lack of mobility are some of the cultural factors that lurk upon the stature and career prospects of women and
degree in any scientific discipline; Rajeshwari Chatterjee, the first woman engineer from the state of Karnataka are some of the legendary women who chose S&T as their career in pre-Independence period.
In the post-Independence era, attitudes of women towards their own potentials, capabilities and roles have changed. Women have discovered new aspirations and hopes. They have transformed themselves from social, home-bound and relationship-dependent roles to entry into occupational roles with career and professional orientations. We have seen, in the recent times that women are pursuing careers in science at rates never seen before, by crossing all hurdles, and this growing representation of female voices as corporate heads, entrepreneurs and innovators, is truly exciting. Prof Rohini Godbole, herself an accomplished physicist at the Indian In- stitute of Science, Bengaluru and Padma awardee, beautifully compiled the biographical and autobiographical sketches of around one hundred Indian women scientists, covering a range of disciplines, in her well acclaimed book Lilavati’s Daughters (co-edited with Ram Ramaswamy). This book is not only a tribute to the great mathematician Lilavati but also a source of motivation to young students having research ambitions.
girls engaged not only in STEM but in other professions too. Limited career aspirations, low self-esteem, weak self-concepts, intimi- dation by male competitors, lack of skills to handle discrimination, reluctance to in- crease responsibility and lack of motivation and ambition to accept challenges are few personal factors that hinder professional growth of women. Therefore, it needs both intellectual conviction as well as emotional readiness among all key stakeholders to face these obstacles at every stage.
With the weakening
of gender stereotyping, women are also venturing into fields which were considered a male preserve
until now
THE GLASS CEILING & BEYOND
Though the number is not enough, women are also assuming leadership positions. Dr Renu Swarup, Dr Soumya Swamina- than, Ritu Karidhal, Tessy Thomas, M Vanitha and others have taken on leading roles in organisations like the DBT, WHO, DRDO, ISRO and R&D organisations of high repute, initiating new projects with far-reaching results. Last year, on the oc- casion of National Science Day, the Min- istry of Women and Child Development
 Contribution of women in any field has been as worthy as that of men but somehow their contributions are not much talked about or have been forgotten with time. There are fewer role models to inspire the interest of women and girls in the field of science and technology. Further, omission of critical materials on and by women in books, media, and popular culture classrooms are big hindrances.
CELEBRATING THE TRAILBLAZERS
It is high time we projected woman scientists, who have dared to walk an untraversed path, who have had the courage to make new beginnings and created niche for themselves, as role models for the younger girls. Kadambini Ganguly, the first female graduate of the British Empire and also the first female physician of South Asia to be trained in western medi- cine; Anandibai Joshi, the first Indian woman physician and the first woman to have graduated with a two-year degree in western medicine in the United States; Janaki Ammal, the first Indian scientist to have received the Padma Shri award; Kamala Sohonie, the first Indian woman to have bagged a PhD
announced the establishment of 11 chairs in the names of emi- nent women in the field of science and technology across the country. These chairs will not only honour and recognise the contribution of women scientists to the field of science but also inspire women and encourage greater participation of young girls in STEM. With the weakening of gender stereotyping, women are also venturing into fields which were considered a male preserve. Who can forget the picture of Kancheepuram saree-clad Indian woman scientists with flowers in their hair celebrating at the Indian Space Research Organisation after successfully putting a satellite into the orbit around Mars or an all-woman crew of Indian navy’s sailing vessel INSV Tarini, led by Lieutenant Commander Vartika Joshi, successfully circumnavigating the globe (Navika Sagar Parikrama) in 254 days covering 21,600 nautical miles? It will be unfair not to highlight the contribution of Indian tribal and rural women, who have no formal education to practice science yet work selflessly to serve the masses with their experiential learning and knowledge in science. Living examples like Lakshmikutti Amma, a 78-year-old tribal woman from Kerala who prac-
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