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India’s push for gender equity in scie

  Jun 15, 2023

India’s push for gender equity in science

Q. What is Gender disparity in science ?



Gender inequality is the social process by which men and women are not treated as equals. The treatment may arise from distinctions regarding biology, psychology, or cultural norms. Some of these distinctions are empirically-grounded while others appear to be socially constructed.


  • The world over, women scientists have been in the forefront of ground-breaking research across the world.
  • But despite their remarkable discoveries, globally they still represent just 29 % of researchers. In India the numbers have been even less.
  • Globally only 3% of the Nobel Prizes for science have been awarded to women, and only 11% of senior research roles are held by women.
  • According to a 2018 fact sheet prepared by UNESCO on women in science, just 28.8% of researchers are women. In India, this stands at 13.9%.


To this end, the DST will incorporate a system of grading institutes depending on the enrolment of women and the advancement of the careers of women faculty and scientists.


  • The concept borrows from a programme started by the UK in 2005 called the Athena SWAN (Scientific Women’s Academic Network), which is now being adopted by many countries. The DST will soon launch a pilot, which the British Council has helped it develop.


Q. What is Athena SWAN?



  • The Athena SWAN Charter is an evaluation and accreditation programme in the UK enhancing gender equity in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM). Participating research organisations and academic institutions are required to analyse data on gender equity and develop action plans for improvement. The programme recognises such efforts with bronze, silver or gold accreditation.
  • Institutions that sign up commit to addressing unequal gender representation; tackling the gender pay gap; removing the obstacles faced by women in career development and progression; discriminatory treatment often experienced by trans people; gender balance of committees and zero tolerance for bullying and sexual harassment.


Q. How well has it worked?



  • In 2019, a report by Ortus Economic Research in partnership with Loughborough University found that 93% of participants believed the programme had a positive impact on gender issues, 78% said it had impacted equality and diversity issues positively, and 78% noted a positive impact on the career progression of women.
  • In 2011, the Chief Medical Officer for England linked the funding of the National Health Service and National Institute for Health Research with the Athena SWAN award to encourage and incentivise medical schools to empower women’s advancement and leadership. This policy decision led to a 400% increase in Athena SWAN applications from medical and medical-related departments.
  • A study in BMJ found that in the five-year period since the scheme was started, participating institutions had a higher number of female leaders than non-Athena institutions, and gender diversity in leadership positions also improved
  • Today, the programme has 170 member institutions across UK and Ireland. Australia has adopted it under the name of SAGE (Science Australia Gender Equity) and has 40 institutions affiliated. Canada, the US and India are currently in transitional phases in implementing it.


Q. Why does India need such a programme?



  • In India, it will be called GATI (Gender Advancement through Transforming Institutions).
  • India is ranked 108 out of 149 countries in the 2018 Global Gender Gap report. 
  • The DST has also found that women are either not promoted, or very often drop out mid-career to attend to their families.  


Q. What are some of Govt Initiatives to bridge gender inequity in Science ?



  • Vigyan Jyoti Scheme:
    • Vigyan Jyoti Scheme is launched by the Department of Science & Technology (DST).
    • It is intended to create a level-playing field for the meritorious girls in high school to pursue Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) in their higher education.
    • It also offers exposure for girl students from the rural background to help to plan their journey from school to a job of their choice in the field of science.


  • GATI Scheme:
    • The Gender Advancement for Transforming Institutions (GATI) will develop a comprehensive Charter and a framework for assessing Gender Equality in STEM.



Q. What are the challenges ahead?



  • To get as many institutions as possible to sign up, the DST will need to manoeuvre around government red tape as most universities, barring the IITs and NITs, are run and funded by the government as well. This means that these institutions don’t have direct control over institutional policies, recruitment and promotions. The DST has tied up with National Assessment and Accreditation Council, under the UGC, aiming to push gender equity through them.
  • The DST plans to run intensive gender sensitisation programmes, especially for the top leadership of institutions, and work within existing rules such as pushing for women members on selection committees during recruitment processes. In the future, the DST is likely to consider policy changes such as those brought about in the UK providing financial incentives through grants to institutes.