Science and gender equality are both important for global progress and for the achievement of the sustainable development goals (SDGs). In order to achieve equal access and participation in science for women and girls, the United Nations General Assembly declared 11 February as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science.
Why International Day of Women and Girls in Science?
While there are more women in India who are now studying science, the numbers dwindle when it comes to having a career in science. Long hours, cultural stereotypes, societal pressure to settling down ‘in time’ are all roadblocks women need to battle. More voice and recognition needs to be given to women in science to motivate and encourage young girls to be a part of the STEM industry.
A Rocky Road
Entering the domain of science has never been easy for women, and it isn’t improving that much. Those that do secure entry-level jobs in the field have a tougher trek to face moving higher up in the hierarchy. For example, in many research institutes such as the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Indian Institute of Technology, and Indian Institute of Science, women constitute a meager 10-12% of the faculty.
Gender discrimination is one of the many barriers that women face at work and at home.
Access to funding for research and quality education is still more difficult for women, keeping them away from better scientific career options.
Studying science, getting advanced degrees and then gaining research experience takes a lot of time. So while parents may allow daughters to pursue an education in science, their support diminishes over time due to concern about marriage and settling down.
Ray of hope
Efforts are being taken by the government and the private sector to help women pursue careers in science. Mentoring sessions are also being taken up by the Department of Science and Technology and the Science Academies.
To bring about a serious change in the numbers of girls and women in science, however, an across-the-spectrum effort has to be made to create an encouraging environment and address the gender bias and stereotyping from school itself.
Awareness campaigns and career counselling should be conducted in schools to make parents and girls aware about how science works and what a successful career path in STEM would be like.
This International Day of Women and Girls in Science is an opportunity for all of us to take a stand for girls and women in science and support them in achieving their true potential.