Gender and Science in India

 

 

 

Neelam Kumar

 

Gender has figured in important ways in shaping the careers of scientists for centuries. Ideologies of gender, nature and science developed over different eras have resulted in the exclusion of women from science for a long time all over the world. Women, in fact, were barred from education itself earlier on. Later on they were allowed education but were barred entry to  universities. The idea prevailed that education would distract women from their natural roles as mothers. Science and especially, technology, has been considered ‘masculine’ for a long time and gender gap in science has been is observed in most societies. The social norms, societal structure, relationship between family and work, and the organizational processes of scientific institutions, have created a series of interrelated problems for women in science.  To address these problems, changes in the society at large are, thus, absolutely essential. Science and society are closely linked and there is need for changes within the social processes and institution of science.

While, in western countries, gender questions in science have been extensively raised, ranging from discussions about women in science to philosophical analyses of the gendered nature of science itself, in India the status of women in science has still not drawn adequate attention. There are only a few reports and studies on gender and science in India. Empirical research specifically on women scientists are scarce and their research productivity has not been particularly dealt with in detail (Subrahmanyan, 1998). Many articles and books have been written about the position of women in a patriarchal society but works on gender and science remain scarce. The feudal, authoritarian values and hierarchy have characterized Indian society. Are these reflected in Indian science as well? Women’s unequal positions in various spheres of social life should make important areas of study for social scientists. While the literature on women and science in western nations has been rather extensive, it is relatively a neglected area of research in India. There are, only a few studies on women in science in the developing countries and most of the productivity difference data, especially the data relating to their scientific productivity, is from the advanced countries. The scattered information about the participation of women in science in the developing countries refers to their access to education and career; very little is known about the contribution of female researchers to scientific production (Leon and Velho 1997). In India, the formation of Indian Women Scientists' Association (IWSA) in 1973 in Mumbai, helped as the first source of data collection on women scientists. Later a few studies have been undertaken and there are a few reports and studies on gender and science. However, they touch upon only random issues, many times analyses have focused on differences, rather than on the inequalities almost always associated with those differences and these studies are scattered and there is no systematic mapping of women in science. The question of women in science in India thus stands out. Some of the questions can be: a) What makes women opt for scientific careers? b) 4. What are the constraints faced by women in pursuing science education? c)  Do their career paths change after education? d) Is the prevailing organizational culture of scientific research and development institutions suitable to women scientists? e) How far have the existing government policies of higher/science education been gender sensitive and do they promote female science education in the country?

 

Objectives

This section aims to examine the role of gender as a variable in determining science careers in India.  It can be divided into two parts. The first part deals with gender and education, analyses the data available on the enrolment of females into various courses in science and engineering. Subsequently, through a critical examination of the education and science policies, it addresses the current realities of women’s participation in science education/research. The second part will discuss an empirical study conducted by the author. The aim of this project is to provide a synthesis on issues related to women in science in Indian context.

 

Historical Background

Modern education for women in India began in the early years of the nineteenth century and by the 1880s universities started admitting them; Calcutta in 1877-78 and Bombay in 1883. Progress was extremely slow particularly until 1921. Female literacy crawled from 0.2 per cent in 1881 to 1.8 per cent in 1921. There was a relatively quicker pace of female education after 1921 and a substantial advance in women's education, as also in other spheres of education, came about only after independence. The National Committee on Women's Education submitted a report in 1959 and expressed great dissatisfaction at the slow progress of women's education in the first decade of independence (Kamat, 1976). The very First Plan (1951-56) of the Government gave some attention to women but, as a subject of ‘welfare’. The Second to Fifth Plans (1956-79) continued to reflect the very same welfare approach. The shift in the approach from ‘welfare’ to ‘development’ of women could take place only in the Sixth Plan (1980-85). Science and technology in India witnessed expansion in the post-Independence era. Committee on Differentiation of Curricula for Boys and Girls, was also established in 1964. Subjects in which women's enrolment increased significantly during the decade of 1970-1980 are commerce (3% to 16%); Science (18% to 28%) and Education ('36% to 48%).

A patrifocal family structure, which gives precedence to men over women, characterizes Indian society and has been the determining factor behind women’s lives including educational access and preferences. Incongruities and oppositions can, however, be seen in case of women scientists in India both historically and currently. Women were, for example, denied entry to C.V. Raman’s laboratory (Sur, 2001). Scientific institutions in India carry essentially masculine ethos and exhibit vertical as well as hierarchical segregation1 in terms of gender. Women’s participation has been limited and confined to junior positions. Only a few women could make it to senior decision-making positions. Contemporary studies reveal gender differentiation in Indian scientific institutions. Organizational hurdles outweighs so called family constraints (Krishnaraj, 1991); unequal treatment and subtle discrimination against women scientist and engineers in the behavioural and interpersonal relations also prevail (Jaiswal, 1993); and the cultural and social context in which science is learned and practiced contributes to the gendering of science (Mukhopadhyay and Seymour 1994) and; discrimination component is much higher in scientific and technical fields in India than among social sciences and other fields (Duraisamy and Duraisamy, 1998). The prevailing socio-cultural systems in India result in a ‘triple burden’ for women in academic and scientific careers (Gupta and Sharma, 2002). Women in all professions perform a double role of managing job and domestic responsibilities, which has been commonly referred to as a ‘dual burden’. In science, the dual burden is combined with various problems that are specific to scientific profession. Recently, Indian National Science Academy commissioned a study to the Research Centre for Women’s Studies, SNDT Women’s University, Mumbai to examine the socio-economic and institutional factors that limit women’s participation in science.

 

Contemporary data :

Before discussing the situation of women in science, we can have a look at the enrolment of females (also in comparison to male) in higher education itself:

 

Table 1:  Women Students per hundred Men Students in Higher Education in India (1950-1951, 1999-2000 to 2003-2004)

Year

Total Women Enrolment (‘000)

Enrolment per
Hundred Men
 

1950-51

40

14

1999-00

2842

55

2000-01

3012

60

2001-02

3514

66

2002-03

3696

67

2003-04

4003

67

Source: http://www.Indiastat.com

 

 

The participation of girls at all stages of education has also been increasing steadily through the years. To assess the enrolment of females in science education, medicine and engineering education one can examine their enrolment in other disciplines too. Table 1 shows the enrolment pattern of women in higher education by faculty/discipline in India over last few decades.

 

Table 2: All India Enrolment of Girls as percent of Total Enrolment in University Education by Faculty       

Year

Arts

Science

Commerce

Education

Eng/Tech

Medicine***

1960-61

18.6

****

1.1

32.5

0.8

20.4

1970-71

33.5

18.5

2.8

37.3

1.0

21.3

1980-81

37.5

27.9

15.2

46.7

4.6

23.8

1990-91

39.8

36.8

24.0

44.2*

10.9*

34.3*

1995-96

41.5

35.5

29.0

41.2*

14.2*

34.5*

1999-2000

44.9

37.4

34.0

42.6*

16.2*

37.8*

2001-02

43.8

39.1

38.7

43.5

24.9

40.6

2003-04**

45.5

39.8

36.7

52.1

23.1

46.3

Note:                  *Only for degree level, not post graduate                       **estimated

*** Excludes dentistry, public health, nursing, midwifery and pharmacy.

**** For the year 1060-61, arts and science data is combined

Source: Manpower Profile India Yearbook 2000-2001, and 2005, Institute of Applied Manpower Research, New Delhi, India.

 

The highest representation of women is in education. Education, to a larger extent, is considered to be most apt subject for women as it is compatible with other responsibilities of women as mother and wife.  This is followed by disciplines like arts and medicine. Lesser percent of women seem to opt for fields like engineering. In the field of science, and engineering however it is good to note that, the women’s enrolment is on rise over the years.

 

Table 3: Enrolment of Girls and Boys in Medical Education* in India

Year

Boys/Girls

Level

Doctorate

Postgraduate

Graduate

Total

1971

Boys

392

5517

66296

72205

Girls

106

1872

16764

18842

1981

Boys

338

10930

81097

93465

Girls

118

3129

24712

27959

1985

Boys

348

14782

80524

95654

Girls

156

4061

33736

37953

1986

Boys

488

14844

82259

97591

Girls

234

4344

37805

42383

1987

Boys

488

14844

82259

97591

Girls

234

4344

37805

42383

2000

Boys

NA

NA

NA

180203$

Girls

NA

NA

NA

90473$

2001

Boys

9019**

14956

123221

147196$

Girls

4751**

7846

102960

115557$

Note: * includes Allopathy, Homeopathy, Ayurveda and Unani        **  Includes M.Phil, Ph.D and D/C.

          $  University Grants Commission, Basic Facts and Figures, 1995-96 to 2000-01.

Source : Dept. of Education, Ministry of Human Resource Development, Govt. of India & Institute of Applied Manpower Research.

 

 

Though medicine has been a favorite discipline among females the table indicates that the rate of growth of male access to it is larger and faster than that of females.

 

Table 4: Enrolment of Women in Engineering

Year

1984-75

1979-80

1985-86

1989-90

1994-95

1999-2000

No. of women enrolled

1300

4400

12200

15800

24900

63100

Women as percentage of total enrolment

1.5

3.7

6.9

7.6

8.3

16.2

Source: University Grants Commission (1999)

 

Table 4 clearly reveals that the participation of women in engineering has remained almost negligible till the early 1980s. It is only in the past 15 years that their enrolment has shown an increase in the trend.

 

Indian S & T systems: the place of Females

In India, the rapid expansion of science and technology has taken place in the post-Independence era. This growth can largely be attributed to the Nehruvian vision that infused development planning in the country since the 1950s. The institutional structures that have evolved to promote the growth of science and technology can be classified as those funded by the Central government, state governments, higher education sector, public and private industry and non–profit institutions and associations. Very few women have been part of these structures, especially in the research and development activities at senior positions. The latest available data reveals that in all, there are 61,050 women employed in R&D establishments, which is 15.6% of the total manpower employed in the country (DST, 2008). By the nature of activity, 12% women are primarily engaged in R&D activities, 11.5% in auxiliary activities and 17.4% in administrative activities. 84% of the total women were employed in the institutional sector. The majority of them were engaged in administrative activities (Research and Development Statistics, 2007). Figure 1 gives an idea about the employment of women in research and development establishments (institutional as well as industrial) in India

 

Fig 1

Fig 1: Full Time Equivalent of Women Employed in Research and Development Establishments as on 1.4. 2000

Note:

  1. Major Scientific Agencies, Central Govt. and State Govt. comes under Institutional Sector; and Public Sector and Private Sector comes under Industrial Sector
  2. Data for Private sector refers to 1184 in-house R &D units including 212 SIRO Units
  3. Data does not include Small Scale industries, Higher Education and Private R &D Firms
  4. R&D: Research and Development

Source: R & D Statistics, 2004-05

 

Are women equally represented in top-tier institutions? Indian National Science Academy (2004), reports that the proportion of women in national laboratories and prestigious universities is less than 15%, except in DBT and ICMR where the percentage exceeds 25%. Tables 5 and 6 provide details:

 

Table 5:  Women Scientists in some R&D Agencies in India

R&D Agencies

Total Scientists

Women Scientists

Women %

CSIR*

5528

595

10.76

ICMR

615

168

27.31

ICAR**

4542

540

11.88

ISRO

11057

1056

9.55

DBT & Autonomous Institutions

456

121

26.53

DST

147

18

12.24

Note: * 1996 data

** Unpublished census of agricultural scientists at NCAP (National Centre for Agricultural Economics & Policy Research) by Prof. D.N. Jha, NCAP.

 

 

 

Table 6: Relative Presence of Women as Scientific and Technical staff in Government R &D Institutions and some Universities

Organization

Grade of the scientist

Scientist-total

% women

Technical-total

% women

CSIR

-

5030

13.0

3250

14.0

DBT

-

179

31.8

277

23.1

ICMR

-

615

27.3

1939

20.1

ICAR

Asst.Prof.

12750

10.4

 

-

Asso.Prof

4750

6.2

 

 

Prof.

2500

3.5

 

 

IISc

Academic

316

6.6

34

14.7

Scientific

113

9.7

 

 

University of Hyderabad

 

101

15.8(only one professor)

 

 

Jawhar Lal Nehru University

 

82

16

20

0

Source: Indian National Science Academy

 

It is seen that there exists wide variance in women scientist’s participation in these agencies. Among these agencies ICMR and DBT has highest rate of participation. This reflects the higher rate of enrolment and success of women in medical and biological science discipline in comparison to other fields of science and technology. Scientific institutions in India are extremely hierarchical and also show gendered hierarchies. Womens’ participation is confined to junior positions and the few women who do make it to senior decision-making positions are unable to change the essentially masculine ethos of these institutions. Women, either drop out of the rat race or learn to compromise on their ambitions. Women scientists also seem to cluster in Life Sciences and Chemistry and are not necessarily found in Earth Sciences or Physics and Mathematics. Results of my own study (Kumar, 2001) reveal (Figures 1 & 2) that the number of females becomes lesser with higher positions in the academic hierarchy. It reflects the gendered nature of the prevailing organizational culture of scientific research and development institutions.

Fig 2

Fig 2: Proportion of Women and Men at different Hierarchical Positions

 

Fig 3

Fig 3: Indian Academy of Sciences Fellowship during 1995-2006

Source: Indian Academy of Sciences

 

Figure 3 illustrates the gender composition of the Indian Academy of Sciences Fellowships during the period 1995 to 2007. It is encouraging to note that the number of female fellows has shown a steady increase from 2.98 % to 5.25%. However, the information available on the status and position of Indian women scientists, in the respective work spheres is not adequate. More research of empirical nature along with gender de-segregated data is essential.  But certain things are still clear. The extant data does indicate that there exist high wastage ratio of women S&T personnel and wide gap exists between percentage of women studying science and percentage of women doing science. We may thus conclude that gender plays an important role in shaping of scientific careers in India. Major attitudinal and institutional changes in the structure and procedures of Indian science, are probably required. In recent years, however, the Government of India (the department of Science & Technology and UGC) is giving enormous attention to the importance of women’s education and is making serious attempts at imparting high level skills to women. Special scholarships and awards have been instituted to attract students in general and women in particular to the science and technology stream. Yet a lot more needs to be done.

 

 

 

References:

 

 

 

 

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