Gender imbalance among various streams of professionals is a constant cause of concern to policy planners and institution builders. The situation becomes more serious when we notice that girls often perform much better academically at secondary school level and then there is a sharp decline in their performance at graduate and postgraduate levels. The situation in the field of science and technology is no less serious. There are very few scientific institutions, which have women scientists as directors, or senior leaders of programmes.
In this paper, we compare our insights from the formal scientific sector with our investigations in informal scientific sector. The effort to blend excellence in formal and informal scientific sectors would require overcoming the gender imbalances in both these sectors. A review of the current status and offer of some policy and institutional suggestions are also included, which could help in overcoming asymmetry in the knowledge and power of women in formal and informal sciences.
Women and Formal and Informal Science3
Anil K Gupta and R A Mashelkar
Intuition is to science what the soul is to body. If intuition is a feminine attribute, then feminine science is expected to be more intuitive and accommodative of many other ways of enquiry, which might appear ‘unscientific’ to begin with. There is a strong case for increasing women’s share in the scientific institutions and professions. This case might at a first sight appear to rest entirely on the grounds of fairness and equal opportunity. But that is not all. The contention in this paper is that the quality of discourse and institutional environment in which scientific enquiries are pursued might get significantly changed if more women participated in scientific pursuits. Further, it is not just the participation of women, which will bring science and society together but also the feminine qualities, which many male scientists may need to possess, which will help in this goal. There will always be questions in science, which would remain unaffected by the gender of a researcher. However, the fact is that the constraints under which women professionals have to balance their multiple roles at home and in the laboratory could lead to an appreciation of the constraints faced by users of science. But evidence on this account is mixed. There are many scholars who have argued that there could be unique perspectives that women scientists may bring to bear on a problem whereas there is an equally large number who think otherwise. Even if there is nothing unique that they may contribute, the case for increasing their participation in every human endeavour including science remains extremely persuasive. But what are the ground realities about the actual participation?
‘Woman is the companion of man, gifted with equal mental capabilities. She has the right to participate in the minutest details, in the activities of man, and she has an equal right of freedom and liberty with them’, said Mahatma Gandhi. But the realities in India tell a different story. R. A. Mashelkar identified a five point agenda or what he called a new ‘Panchsheel’ for the new millennium, in his Presidential address at Indian Science Congress, January 3, 2000. The agenda included child-centred education, woman-centred family, human centred development, knowledge centred society and innovation-centred India. He observed:
Recently, the Hon’ble President of India said ‘The best symbol of female values that has been created by nature is in the form of ‘mother’. Mother is ‘creativity’ and ‘innovation’ personified in solving human problems in the family. She represents excellence, morality, equality not in material terms but as a living cultural symbol practicing these values. Out of all the management experiences in business, industry, public service and society, mother is the best manager nature has created. Mother’s instinct has sustained Mother India. It is more specific than the word ‘culture’ itself. The growing alienation between man and society, which modern-day management practices have to contend with, may find its solution in the management practices which derive strength from the way a mother manages her family in small and big ways i.e. Mother culture!1’
And yet harsh statistics stare us in the face. About 70 per cent of Indian women are illiterate. Ninety per cent of family planning operations are tubectomies. And sixty per cent of primary school dropouts are girls2. Sharp gender inequalities with unequal pay for equal work, discrimination in the labour market and so on are grim realities in today’s India3.
Although academically women have excelled in the last decade or so in practicality all the disciplines of science, they are grossly under-represented in science and technology in India at various levels. The share of women in higher education in arts and education has increased from 36 and 29 per cent in 1974-75 to about 48, and 50 per cent in 1999-2000. But in science subjects, the situation is very different. Their share in science, agriculture, veterinary science, medicine and engineering has changed from 23, 1, 1, 20 and 1.5 per cent respectively to 35, 20, 12, 32, and 16 per cent respectively over the same period (see Table I). Just a three percent increase over twenty years in science subjects. The major choice of the subject for women scientists continues to be life science. It has also been noted that whereas two thirds of the working women scientists are engaged in teaching, hardly three per cent go for R&D (see Table II),4 and a very insignificant percentage gets engaged in industrial production, managerial and entrepreneurship (See Table 3)5.
Advances in life sciences have placed in the hands of women opportunities that were unheard of earlier. However, technology is a double-edged weapon and if not well used, its advance can hurt the cause of women. For instance, today’s technology enables the determination of the sex of a child during pregnancy. It was shocking to hear recently about some statistics on the number of pregnancy terminations, which in the case of the female child far exceeded that of the male child – and this was not in a village but in a metropolitan city6. The enactment of new laws, which will arrest this process of sex determination, is a welcome step.
There is an immediate need to reaffirm and reiterate the necessity for action regarding the participation of women in the decision-making process related to science and technology, including in planning and setting priorities for research and development, and in the choice, acquisition, adaptation, innovation, and application of science and technology for development. Also research and development serving women’s needs should be given high priority. Conscious policies should be adopted to promote research and development that aims at relieving women from time and energy consuming and under-productive work, meeting their health and nutritional needs and promoting their general well-being.
At the most fundamental level, we will have to focus on improving the female literacy rate; ensuring equal access of girls to existing school facilities; minimizing the dropout of girl students; encouraging the participation of girls and women in existing technical training and vocational training programmes; and increasing educational and particularly scientific and technical education and training facilities for girls and women. But these measures will not succeed completely unless the institutional environment in which women scientists have to work also is modified. It is this goal which will require changes in the mindset and socio-cultural norms of our country. India, we are confident, is capable of attempting this change.
Saga of exclusion: Studies on women in science There are several strands of thought in the literature on women and science and some are quite well known and familiar such as:
Strong economic and cultural barriers to the entry of women in higher science education within science, the barriers also exist for entry into different disciplines. Some of these barriers are psychological and some are institutional. For instance, some of the male heads of departments use their own biases not to encourage girls from pursuing certain disciplines or problem areas.
Indian scientists in general are westward looking and Indian women scientists are no exception. The parameters of success for many might be similar to the male scientists. There is no evidence that women scientists are more responsive to societal concerns and empathize more with scientific and technological problems of the disadvantaged sections of society or evaluate their success in terms of the social problems they solve.
Marriage based transfers, household chores and filial responsibilities weigh rather heavily on most women scientists and thus their ability to progress, even after they enter science, is generally restricted (some times because of their own constraints and many times because of lack of a supportive peer culture). Some times they internalize the constraints by saying, "I am not ambitious".7 The lack of achievements gets explained internally, or is internalized as some thing inherent in their way of doing things or responding to life.
Formal scientific research has seen very many important contributions by some of outstanding women scientists,8 but did their being women affect the quality or the direction of science they pursued? Some feminist critiques have implied that the male domination of science in the western mould has made it far too dispassionately tool-oriented, more materialistic and less concerned for underprivileged. What is the evidence that in the hands of women, the scientific tools acquired a more humane touch? If such is not the case, then perhaps the more important issue is that women's presence needs to be high in science regardless of whether that will affect the content or quality of science. Though in some cases it might affect the outcomes (an unfair system, in terms of women’s participation, can surely not produce fair outcomes).
Profiles of pioneers like Anna Mani are a beacon of hope particularly when they deny discrimination, refuse to see any connection between their being women on their role as a scientist, and underline the social and family privilege which helped them grow9. But even Anna Mani recalls the times when some male peers or superiors tried to highlight the mistakes of women students or scientists out of context and disproportionately. Professional seclusion is often forced upon even such pioneering scientists, because there are fewer women peers of that class. Socialization with male colleagues has its own attendant implications in the Indian mindset. Having worked with Sir C.V. Raman, Anna experienced Raman’s biases no differently than any other women scientist. But being a believer in gender neutrality in science, she somehow never saw the need to promote women while selecting candidates in various positions.10
We have Bhama Srinivasan, Aarti Prabhakar, Radha Basu (one among the top 25 women on the Web, 2000)11. But they are so few and far apart that the story of Indian women in science is a story of indifference, neglect, and lack of sufficient encouragement to them to advance.12 A small part of this story should be explained by the fact that the story of women in science is perhaps not very different from the story of women in other professions (except a few like nursing where they dominate).
The journey of women scientists/natural philosophers like Gargi, and Maitreyi to Geervani13 and Indira Nath14 (recipient of Loral award 2002), is a long one. But the new ‘social contract’ 15 between the society and science that women scientists are supposed to be vying for is yet to be witnessed. The Third World Organization of Women in Science (1999) observed in a statement,
Notwithstanding the lack of comprehensive and reliable statistical data, we testify our preoccupation at the heavy difficulties still encountered by women in accessing the domains of S&T; on the other hand, we testify that women play crucial roles in the preservation of norms, values and practices that richly endow the diverse societies of the world and are fundamental to human existence. Since S&T have become major influences in our times, it is urgent that women come to the forefront to participate in shaping the agenda for the future direction of the scientific enterprise. The creation of TWOWS was inspired by the conviction that women have a unique and valuable perspective to bear upon the application of S&T to development, a conviction that has been reconfirmed by the debates and the outcome of the present Conference
In a study it was noted 16 that curriculum developed by Women’s Studies professionals (led by Maithreyi Krishnaraj in this case17) with respect to women’s studies paid no attention to women as creative knowledge workers or innovators, or in other words, problem solvers. This is evident from lack of many studies on creative and innovative technological contributions by women. We are not saying that concern for women should be shown by women only, but we do feel that there is a perspective that women scholars might have brought to bear on the role of women in science.
The role of women in science needs proper appreciation and recognition. Barriers to their entry, inclusion and upward movement need to be removed. But at the same time, not many women scientists might like to move up because they were women (rather than being better scientists). The social recognition and mindset, which tends to belittle their achievements when they do make it, is a major barrier and that needs a careful handling. Social pressures, which segregate women and thus come in the way of forming similar social networks that male scientists make, also affect the peer support that they are able to harness in their work than, say, male scientists.
But a study of women above hundred years of age under way at SRISTI (Society for Research and Initiatives for Sustainable Technologies and Institutions)18 has thrown up some interesting insights about the “informal” scientists. The ease with which the centurion women carry stress and perform their multiple roles without feeling too great about it, without seeking sympathy and without suffering from victim’s perspectives is noticeable. Their insights about nature and resources they handle are also very important. But if women were not given the tools of the trade like carpentry or black smithy for centuries, it is natural, is not it, that they learned to cope with inefficiencies rather than attempt to transcend them? Women tend to be very creative in coping (a cultural legacy as well) rather than transcending these constraints in many domains. They are encultured from an early age that they were supposed to adapt and adjust and this almost becomes their second nature. But some of them who have an opportunity to be “scouted”, “supported” and “sighted” do demonstrate that their creativity need not be less than their male counterparts; at least in informal science.
Autumn Stanley, in her much neglected masterpiece, Mothers and Daughters of Invention, lamented at the share of women patent holders which was less than one percent during 1809 - 1985 in USA. She shows how many times men were given credit for the inventions by their wives.19 This number has increased to about 4-8 per cent (by different estimates). Her contention is that women invent. There is no question of that. But they are not recognized as inventors.20 It is an extraordinary study of women’s creativity and inventiveness. And yet, despite the fact that the author spent thirteen years to write this book, and provided unassailable evidence of how women invented new technologies during the last 200 hundred years in USA, the work has remained obscure. It is not only that women’s creativity is ignored, even evidence about this is ignored.
And could we disagree with this? Our specific suggestion would be that we need to take steps to increase their participation and visibility in formal and informal scientific expeditions. But the major socio-cultural problem might still remain, as Raman would remark when he saw male and female scientists socializing, “scandalous”21. However, this has become less of a problem today. Social space for women scientists is expanding in professions and also perhaps in male minds.
Genderization of science: Even if it be argued that the direction, nature and quality of scientific pursuits would be no different whether the investigator was a male or a female scholar, the case for increasing space for women in scientific enterprises stands. The social discrimination against women begins at an early age in Indian society. Right from childhood a girl is always counseled to learn to be patient, to adapt, adjust and submit. After all, she was supposed to change her home after marriage and spend a major part of life in her adopted family. In addition, preference for the male child and discrimination in his favour is an everyday experience for a girl. The social safety or lack of it becomes another constraint when she grows up and recognizes that she cannot move around as freely as the boys in the family or neighbourhood. The dropout rate of children, and within them girl children, continues to be very high from primary school onwards. A few that reach the portals of colleges and universities face further constraints.
The historical bias in favour of male scientists gets reinforced through various institutional and non-institutional channels. The scientific enterprise cannot grow without dialogue, collaboration and knowledge networking. With increasing complexity in scientific enquiries, the possibility of a scientist ploughing a lonely furrow is becoming less and less feasible. Our social customs and cultural taboos inhibit many initiatives that a woman scientist must take to make robust enquiries and pursue collaborative research. In the patrifocal society the conflicts between the three roles of mother, wife and professional have to be resolved everyday. The situation becomes more complex when some of the male scientists find it difficult to maintain boundaries of their roles, while pursuing professional enquiries. The predatory environment has become less so with increasing awareness among male scientists and self-empowerment of women professionals. But, the problem remains.
Some scholars believe that Women’s Studies have now to grapple with the issue of ‘women seeking equality at work and home’ as compared to earlier model of ‘educated woman as deviant reconciling dual conflicting roles’22 We may not agree with the extreme eco-feminist view that western science produces “technologies that are violent, invasive and therefore sexist and racist”23, and that greater participation by women would change the direction of technology development significantly. If such was the case, the nature of technologies both in the formal and informal sectors should have been significantly different in matrifocal societies. Such has not been the evidence. Biases exist in formal science and these biases often work against the incorporation of people’s knowledge and within them, the women’s knowledge. But that these biases are gendered in nature has not been conclusively proved. The nature of scientific questions and their implications for society have not been shown to be different when pursued by women scientists. In fact, in a study of women moneylenders vis-à-vis male moneylenders, Gupta observed little difference in the method of exploitation of poor people by moneylenders just because of their gender. If any thing, because of a more intimate knowledge of the personal conditions, the methods of rent extraction by women moneylenders were perhaps more ingenious. 24 The debate on this issue of science being differently pursued by women as against men has not been resolved. Quoting many western scientists,25 Subrahmanyan recognizes that by removing masculine bias from science, it would not get ‘purified’.26
The structure of scientific institutions, criteria of appraisal and processes of decision making would create their own logic whether in the hands of men or women. The contribution of people’s knowledge, creativity and innovation was recognized for the first time in the 87 year old history of Indian Science Congress in Pune in 2000 by R. A. Mashelkar, a male scientist27, though Indian Science Congress had women scientists as leaders in the past. It is no reflection on those outstanding women scientists who chaired the Science Congress. The fact is that even the other male scientists did not pay attention to this issue of building bridges with people’s knowledge either before or after this Congress. The reason is not that the women would not have liked the scientific and technological constraints to be overcome particularly when faced by them for so long. The historical reality is that they were denied the skills and tools of, say, black smithy, carpentry, or casting, etc., such that they could not innovate tools to overcome their drudgery. The male bias in science and technology cannot be denied. But, the answer will have to go beyond getting more women in science. The very basis of scientific enquiry, influenced as it is by the design of scientific institutions, the incentives and disincentives for promotion and recognition, would have to be modified. And this task would need to be pursued by men scientists more than the women scientists. If technological problems of women did not get resolved for so long, it is not the responsibility of women scientists alone to resolve this now. The share of women in technological disciplines continues to be extremely low28. If this argument was allowed to persist, there would be a double fault. First we create barriers and stereotypes that prevent women from entering science and then expect them to solve those problems which male dominated science could not address adequately for so long.
Women and informal science: an empirical study by Honey Bee Network
The farmers, home makers, artisans and healers include many ‘informal’ scientists and technologists. Their representation in the total pool of knowledge experts scouted by Honey Bee Network is quite small29. This is not because they are less creative but because of the lack of women field staff and volunteers, who could scout women knowledge experts and ‘scientists’ and ‘technologists’.
Sita Ben, a healer from Dangs forests in south Gujarat was honoured at the Honey Bee annual function a couple of years ago by the award of SRISTI Samman for her knowledge as well as her spirit of service. She was one of the very few (and in that village the only one) expert woman herbal healers in that region in the tribal district of Dangs, Gujarat. She had learned it from her brother and had developed considerable reputation in solving problems of people in the nearby region.( see Table IV). At the award function she was exposed to a lot of attention, adulation, crowd and noise. When she went back, she got slightly disoriented. As soon as The Honey Bee network and SRISTI learned about it, they took her to a local clinic and she had to be treated for a few weeks for this psychological stress30.
She has recovered and resumed normal functions now of collecting fire wood from the forest, dispending medicines to the needy, and collecting other forest products. The question is how to coordinate the two worlds of knowledge and acknowledgement? The subtlety of a tribal culture was absent perhaps in the function. The organizers were perhaps too loud and seemed less authentic. It created a stress. May be this is an extreme case31. But building bridges between formal and informal science and technology would require paying attention to such subtleties. Even empowerment of such knowledge-rich, economically poor, isolated and expert women required much greater sensitivity than had been shown by us
Can women only cope and not create? Why are there so few women innovators?32 Here we would like to share with our readers some of the findings of our empirical research. The Honey Bee network has been very self critically reflecting on the fact that the share of women innovators and traditional knowledge holders in our database of over fifteen thousand innovations and traditional knowledge mobilized by National Innovation Foundation (NIF) directly and through Honey Bee network has not been more than five per cent. This certainly reflects more on our incapacity and inadequacy than any innate inability of women to innovate. This was the case despite incorporating the resolve of women, ‘if given some space to stand, they would move the world’, in SRISTI’s logo.
We had argued earlier that given the cultural context, a girl was taught from an early age to adapt, adjust and accommodate, since she was supposed to go to ‘another’ house after marriage. The general thrust towards compliance and conformity so deeply embedded in our culture was particularly underlined in the case of women. The women tended to be very creative in coping with stresses of various kinds. Historically, they were not given tools of black smithy and carpentry such that even if they felt dissatisfied with the given technologies of daily use, they did not have wherewithal to transcend the constraints. The every day technologies used by women seemed to have had much lesser technological innovations, thanks to the neglect by men artisans and scientific minds. Thus, we felt that there indeed were fewer innovations attempted by women, given the cultural, political and economic constraints under which they worked.
But then we also knew all along that no two women cooked the same recipe or dish alike. The stamp of personality of a lady was almost always imprinted on the way a dish was cooked. And this happened every time she cooked that particular dish. This indicated enormous degree of creativity, far higher than evident in any other human activity. Male farmers, or artisans or technologists would not be able to claim so much uniqueness in any human endeavour. Why did we miss it then so much?
We used several explanations: that we had much lesser number of lady researchers who were willing to go from village to village looking for odd balls, the women experimenters and inventors; the male researchers had difficulty in approaching women in the villages particularly in the absence of the men folk at home; the biases of the researchers; and men often dissuaded field workers from looking for new ideas from women, since after all they (the men) knew all! And these seemed to become less and less acceptable as time passed. But our pedagogies seemed to have internalized various constraints rather than transcending them. Were we not behaving like the subject of inquiry ourselves, we were coping rather than being creative? Very slowly, as this realization dawned, our methods started becoming more creative.
We started having Shodh Yatras33 involving walk through a number of villages for eight to ten days34 The idea was to honour the innovators and traditional knowledge experts at their door step and share the experiences of innovators walking with us. Our hope was and is, that society would become innovative once inertia was overcome through presentation of real life examples of those who had done so in their neighborhood as well as in far way regions. During these Yatras, we also organized contests among women to cook recipes that had at least some uncultivated ingredients. The contests threw up women’s innovations as well as outstanding traditional knowledge in utilizing lesser known biodiversity and meet nutritional and food requirements in normal times but particularly in stress periods like droughts and floods. We have now a large collection of such recipes (see Table V), many of which can put the best chef to shame in their ingenuinity and taste. For instance, we came across a delicious vegetable cooked out of leaves of Euphorbia in a recent Shodh Yatra. Who would imagine that the few leaves that this cactus bears could be put to such delicious use35? It is a different matter that while this plant may be neglected in India, it is a rich source of anti cancer drugs abroad36?
The biodiversity contest among young children also brought out several such uses. When we organized biodiversity contests among school children it was found that girl children knew more than boys in primary classes but as they moved to classes six or seven, they knew half as much as boys did, apparently because their freedom to move about outside the home was curtailed, and also their responsibility to look after younger kids increased. Discrimination in learning opportunities vis-à-vis boys began early for Indian girls.
While we pursued this and several other approaches including organizing specific meetings of only women experimenters, we adjusted to the fact that in most Shodh Yatras participation of women in various villages was much lower than men and often negligible in some villages. This time in summer of 2001, in Alwar district, Rajasthan we decided that it was time to change. Right from the first, in two villages, Bhikampur and Surajgadh, we decided to try out some thing different. We would start interactions by showing the multimedia multi-language data base on innovations which always attracted a very high attention. Invariably in every meeting there would be only men and children. After showing a few innovations, we stopped and insisted that unless women were invited to the meeting, we were not going to show any further. We were told that women were busy, that they had gone out (if it was afternoon time), and that the men would tell them whatever they saw. But we remained adamant and were pleasantly surprised that the approach worked in every single case during the recent Shodh Yatra. We not only could share with women what we knew but also learn from them a great deal about their own concerns, and creative approaches for solving their problems, through more of the first than of the latter. This was very inspiring but also very embarrassing. Why had we adapted to the absence of women even in a single meeting during previous seven Shodh Yatras?
There is no doubt that women excel in certain fields of knowledge domains in which they have greater familiarity and control. Whether it is the seed selection37 or storage in agriculture38, child care39 or women’s own health problems, the knowledge of women is indeed far superior and extensive compared to that of men.
The attributes of different grains or other foods which make experimentation with different recipes for processing these foods possible are known to women. But, the germplasm descriptors used in the national and international gene banks around the world do not still include the columns for recording the characterization done by women innovators as well as community members. It is ignored that increasing share of processed food in consumer baskets would require newer and newer innovations in this sector. The indigenous knowledge of women if catalogued systematically could have expanded the scientific and technological options enormously. This should happen even if gene banks are headed by male scientists, as is the case in most countries including India. Likewise, selection criteria of local germplasm and varieties by male farmer breeders are also not recorded. The biases against people’s knowledge are deep and institutional. The women’s knowledge tends to get neglected far more than the men’s local knowledge.
In a recent study of knowledge systems of old women, who had lived for a hundred or more years in Gujarat, SRISTI has begun documentation of the unique insights such women have gained over the years about environment, biodiversity, nature and life in general. Several lessons have already emerged from this study, perhaps the first of its kind. Nathi ben of Mentaal village knew about a particular plant used for animal care. However, she could not recognize it due to her weak eyesight. When about 20 women and men were shown various plants, only one could identify this particular plant for the purpose for which Nathi ben had experimented it. This lady had also learnt it from Nathi ben years ago when she used to go with her for collecting fodder and cutting grass in the nearby regions40. The erosion of this knowledge would have been complete if we had not stumbled upon at least one person who could continue the knowledge chain. It is quite obvious that such knowledge, developed decades ago or sometimes centuries ago and continued by a few women (or for that matter, men), would get lost if it was not documented with due credit to the traditional knowledge holders. In the case of 100 years old women, the risk of such knowledge being lost very soon is very real all over the country and in fact in the world. Local biodiversity, particularly agro biodiversity was monitored annually and managed by local communities through an informal institution. Mulee ben described how on the day of Sharad Poornima, a large variety of cultivated and uncultivated vegetables were collected, cooked and offered to God before eating41. Such an institution exists in different parts of the country. The one who would have maximum number of vegetables, particularly uncultivated ones, would obviously take a lot of pride and would be talked about in the community. The knowledge of diversity, its uses, institutions for its conservation are aspects of knowledge systems about which women may have unique insights.
There were occasions when certain vegetables were important for social occasions but not liked by the male members of the family. Gana ben and Nathi ben explained how they have to cook such vegetables when their husbands were away. The famine and stress foods were extremely important for survival in hard times42. Modern science might benefit a great deal from knowledge of such foods which many women who had survived through the famine of 1900 still recalled from their childhood. Which food processing tools should be made from which wood so that the weight was less was also a valuable insight. How much of impact should be made on paddy ears so that while beating the same, only the chaff got separated and the grain did not get damaged was found out in a very interesting manner. Shambu ben of Surendranagar district explained, if the beating stick made of ‘rayan’ wood could be lifted with two little fingers of the left hand, then the weight was considered appropriate. Nathiben asked the researchers to name a grain, which required maximum labour and energy to process after harvest. And when nobody could reply, she mentioned a minor millet called ‘bunty’ which was the most difficult to process and very nutritive.
There are a large number of other insights emerging from this study being pursued with the help of male researchers. Honey Bee Network had failed to scout more than five per cent of women innovators and outstanding traditional knowledge holders out of more than 10000 innovations and traditional knowledge examples in the database. New methods, perspectives and institutional arrangements have to be evolved to overcome the historical bias.
National Innovation Foundation (NIF) has instituted special prizes for innovations by and for women. But so far it has not been able to accomplish much in terms of tapping women’s creativity in informal science and technology. NIF is determined to overcome this barrier and achieve a balance in our search process. The question would still remain as to whether the scientific establishments can come forward, build bridges and add value to the local knowledge, particularly of women, and thus improve their livelihood prospects, help conserve nature, biodiversity and associated knowledge system with appropriate sharing of benefits. A MOU has been signed between NIF and National Botanical Research Institute, Lucknow, to accomplish this tough task. A similar effort is going on with ICAR and other institutions. Soon a major blemish on Indian science of having neglected local knowledge, especially that of women, might be overcome. How soon it will be, is an open question.
In conclusion, a major question that we need to answer is how to integrate more women in the study and pursuit of science. In other words, can we feminize science? Here are some suggestions that we offer.
Policy and Institutional Alternatives for ‘Feminizing Science’ So long as tending children remains the mother’s responsibility in our society, we have to create space in our institutions for relieving this stress on women professionals through high quality child care system affiliated to each institution. Likewise various facilities, which would make their participation in professional institutions possible, must be provided on a priority basis. However, there are certain specific interventions required for feminizing science:
Flexible timing and part time work have to become the rule rather than the exception for those women scientists, who desire such arrangements.
The use of Information Technology is necessary in networking women scientist, mentoring young scientists to help them cope with multiple roles, providing them high quality peer reference groups and enabling them to work from home wherever feasible.
The fact that science grows through interaction and group work, the collegial culture and social attitudes must change, enabling women to take up complex problems, requiring team work, and experiments at odd hours. Each professional society must be required to report in their annual conference the efforts it has made to involve women scientist in challenging research programs, and not just at membership level but also at leadership level.
The socialization of women scientists will have to be with male senior scientist for some time due to historical biases. The senior male scientists need to be made sensitive of their responsibility to create a more congenial atmosphere for new entrants as well as for middle rung scientists.
Travelling is an important means through which women scientists can move, learn and build contacts, which become so useful in profession. Special travel grants to women scientists might help in the matter.
It is not just the involvement of women, which is needed for feminizing science; it is the incorporation of feminine qualities in male institutions and mindset, which is necessary. Expression of emotions, seeing inter-connections, use of intuition and not being apologetic about it, and allowing family responsibilities to figure among reasons for changing priorities are some steps.
We do not think that making science more caring, compassionate and concerned with the interests of the under-privileged will require involvement of only women scientists. But we do feel that their involvement might make it more effortless and also more ‘natural’ to science institutions.
Faculty-wise Enrolment of Women in Higher Education, 197 to 1999-2000
( ' 000)
Abbr. : Agri. : Agriculture.
Vety. Sc. : Veterinary Sciences.
Engg. : Engineering and Technology.
Note : * : Include Agriculture, Veterinary and Medicine.
% : Data included elsewhere with another category.
Figures in brackets indicate the enrolment of women as a percentage
of total enrolment.
Source : Research and Development Statistics 2000-01, Ministry of Science
and Technology, Govt. of India.
Full Time Equivalent of Women Employed
in Research and Development Establishments
Abbr. : R&D : Research and Development.
Note : * : Total of Institutional Sector & Industrial Sector.
1.4.1998 : Data for private sector refers to 1144 in-house R&D units
including 176 SIRO units.
1.4.1996 : Data for private sector refers to 1149 in-house R&D units including 159 SIRO units.
Data does not include Small Scale Industries (SSI) and Higher Education.
Source : Research and Development Statistics 2000-01 & Past Issue, Ministry
of Science and Technology, Govt. of India.
Figures at all India level
Industry-wise Women Employment in the Organised Sector
(As on 31.3.1998 and 31.3.1999)
Employment (In ' 000)
(As on 31.3.1998)
(As on 31.3.1999)
Agriculture, Hunting Forestry & Fishing
Mining & Quarrying
Electricity, Gas & Water
Wholesale& Retail Trade & Restaurants and Hotels
Transport, Storage & Communications
Financing, Insurance Real Estate & Business Services
Community, Social & Personal Services
Source : Employment Review, January-March 1999, Directorate General of Employment and Training, Ministry of Labour Government of India.