Deepmala 16 – Women and S&T

In India, approximately 50% of our population is women. In this new century of knowledge, with all pervasive advances in S&T affecting human lives profoundly, it is pertinent to ask as to what Indian women could do for S&T and what S&T could do for women?

Harsh statistics stares us in the face. 70% of the Indian women are illiterate. 90% of family planning operations are tubectomies. 60% of primary school dropouts are girls. Sharp gender inequalities with unequal pay for equal work, discrimination in labour market and so on are grim realities.

Although academically, women have excelled in the last decade or so in practicality all the disciplines of science, women are grossly unrepresented in science and technology in India at various levels. Some estimates show that around 90% of the science degree holders in pure science are women, but only 8% in medicine and around 3% in engineering and technology are women. The major choice of the subject for women scientists continues to be life science.

The emerging technological developments have the potential to impact the lives of the women enormously. The emergence of information technology will play a great role with education reaching the home now, with access of women to higher education becoming easier. The same flexibilities are available for working too. The emerging IT connectivity offers the women the freedom to work from home and at hours that suit them. Home and office have ceased to be contrary pulls. However, in order that women benefit fully from the IT revolution, we will have to make fundamental changes in the archaic employment rules with a far more liberal view of the work place, work function and working hours.

Advances in life sciences have placed in the hands of women opportunities that were unheard of earlier. We must promote vigorously pro-women technologies. These exist in their creative participation in agriculture linked activities, micro-propagation, plant tissue culture, disease surveillance, health care systems and so on. Developing and enhancing a woman’s entrepreneurial skills and giving her economic freedom will alone restore her to the rightful place in the family and the society.

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 training facilities for girls and women.

A review and revision of the present curriculum and textbooks at both the primary and secondary level should be undertaken to introduce programmes and activities designed to overcome the women students’ fear and anxiety frequently associated with science and mathematics, to present positive images of women engaged in problem-solving and inventive roles, and to introduce materials more in line with a country’s development needs, with particular attention to the role of women within the process.

India of the twenty first century has to stand on two legs. The issue of Women and S&T, therefore, assumes even a greater significance.