HYDERABAD: Laying bare the glaring gender inequality across all Research and Development (R&D) institutions in the country, figures presented by Minister of Science and Technology YS Chowdary in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday revealed that of the 2.83 lakh scientists, engineers and technologists employed in these institutions, only 13.9 per cent (39,389) are women. The minister was responding to a question on number of women scientists in the country. The situation is no di f ferent closer home.
Women scientists consist less than 20 per cent of all scientists in Indian Institute of Chemical Technology (IICT), National Geophysical Research Institute (NGRI) and Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) located in Hyderabad, as per figures obtained from these institutes. The minister in his reply mentioned “family responsibilities, cultural and societal constraints” as reasons stopping women from joining R&D labs as scientists. Some scientists from the city told Express that this was true and that unless women stop prioritising family responsibilities over research, not much will change.
On the eve of International Women’s Day, the theme for which this year is ‘Women need to press for progress,’ Dr Kusumita Arora, principal scientist at NGRI, pointed out: “While the number of women pursuing post-graduation has increased over the years with a corresponding rise in the number of women applying for PhD, many young women are still struggling to prioritise between research and family. Not many young women take pro-work decisions and as a result, many drop out even before completing PhD. This ultimately results in fewer women than man applying for positions of scientists.”
When contacted, Dr Swathi G, a microbiologist and researcher from the city also pointed out the same issue. Although there are schemes to help women who drop out of research for starting a family to come back and finish PhD, Dr Arora said such women lose out crucial initial years of aggressive career-building. Women scientists who do join as scientists in labs, Dr Arora said, again stumble when it comes to promotions for senior posts as for the few positions available, women have to be really competitive and strategic. But as they end up devoting less time on research due to family, they lose out.