Page 38 - ScienceIndia Magazine March 2021
P. 38

Woman Scientists
The Reality
Beyond Myths,
False Notions
The anthology, Lilavati’s Daughters:
The Women Scientists of India, published a decade ago, made readers aware of bright minds and also served up role models for young aspirants
 n Akshaya Mishra
The presence of women in leader- ship roles in several science-cen- tric organisations has upended certain calcified notions on gender dis- crimination in the country. Women seek- ing a bright professional career, goes one, don’t have it easy in a society steeped in the mindset and codes of patriarchy. There are entry barriers, growth hurdles and glass ceilings in jobs. If they manage to negotiate the hostility of the male of the species, they still need to grapple with the challenge of managing career and family, and excelling in both. Not many overcome these obstacles to shine in their field of choice. All these lead to talent not getting a chance to bloom.
This assumption needed the sobering touch of reality. Because it is not only a sweeping generalisation but also a rath-
er misleading statement on the status of women in our society. Their position at the top in the rarefied field of science ex- plains why this notion is wobbly. They lead missions of Indian Space Research Organisation, head CSIR labs and the government’s scientific institutions. Woman scientists also helm departments critical to the development of science and technology. It can be argued that the head count is too low for a country with such a large woman population. But this matter is in no way India-specific. The trend across the world clearly suggests so. The notion, backed by an aggres- sive feminist perspective, or perhaps an agenda, apparently distorts the reality and presents a needless gender conflict dimension to us.
Women in the scientific pursuit in India have debunked several myths. The biggest one, that of intellectual in- feriority of women, has been around for centuries. Male and female brains work differently, it would tell us. Those of women are not suited for spatial cogni- tion, a requirement in science. Of course, this has been junked in several studies across the world and does not even merit a discussion. That nearly 15 percent of
research and development workforce including scientists, engineers and tech- nologists consists of women tells its own story. The numbers, compared with the global average of about 30 percent, may lead to some dismal interpretations, but contextualised in our colonial history, particularly in the area of education, these would look lame. While the myth persists in some isolated quarters, it can be concluded that it has not really been a big hindrance to women with zeal in science and determination to pursue it as a career.
A big part of the skewed understand- ing of women in science has to do with the fact that they remained largely in- visible to the public. They were treated as part of the science community, not a separate category within it. A book on women scientists of India spanning more than a century was a welcome initiative to address this shortcoming. The anthol- ogy, Lilavati’s Daughters: The Women Scientists of India, published by the In- dian Academy of Sciences about a decade ago, not only made readers aware of the bright minds that broke the shackles of several constraints to script individual success stories but also served up several
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