The fight against the insufficient representation of women in science

They are Dharmapalan

The underrepresentation of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields is a complex issue with multiple contributing factors. In addition to societal bias against women choosing careers in science and technology, the lack of support from a professional peer group in their workplace is also a serious problem. It is challenging for women to embark on scientific research without the support of a peer community dominated by their male counterparts. In such a scenario, specific schemes or initiatives targeting women in scientific research can be useful in addressing the systemic barriers and inequalities that women may face in STEM fields. These programs can provide targeted support to increase the participation and advancement of women in these fields.
Department of Science and Technology (DST), Govt. of India recognizes the importance of inclusivity and diversity in driving scientific innovation and progress. To address the issue of under-representation of women in the field of science and technology (S&T), DST launched the 'Women in Science and Engineering-KIRAN (WISE-KIRAN)' scheme. This program aims to empower women from different backgrounds and walks of life, providing them with opportunities to participate and actively excel in the domains of science and technology. WISE-KIRAN is designed as a holistic initiative that addresses the wide range of challenges that women face in their scientific journeys. These challenges can include societal stereotypes and prejudices, limited access to resources and opportunities, lack of mentoring and networking, and work-life balance issues. The scheme offers different programs and interventions to support women at different stages of their scientific careers. These programs may include:
1. Educational and training initiatives to encourage girls and young women to pursue scientific and technological subjects and occupations.
2. Fellowships, scholarships and research grants to support women in higher education and research; eg WISE-PhD and WISE-PDF.
3. Mentoring programs to connect ambitious female scientists with established professionals in their field.
4. Capacity building workshops and skill development programs to improve women's scientific expertise and leadership abilities; eg WISE Internship in Intellectual Property Rights (WISE-IPR) .
5. Networking events and conferences to facilitate collaboration, knowledge sharing and career advancement opportunities for women in science and technology, eg Women's International Grants (WINGS).
Women's Instinct for Developing and Ushering in Scientific Heights & Innovations (WIDUSHI) is a unique initiative of the Indian government to support women scientists on the verge of retirement, as well as women scientists who are not in permanent positions, but are active researchers and constantly excel in the field of research.
Through the Consolidation of University Research for Innovation and Excellence (CURIE) programme, DST also supports the development of infrastructure in women's institutions, especially women's universities and postgraduate colleges. It assists women's institutions in setting up state-of-the-art research infrastructure to enhance their research capabilities and enhance research and development (R&D) efforts, ultimately striving for excellence in the domain of science and technology (S&T). CURIE's primary objective is to focus on strengthening research infrastructure, cultivating research capacity and fostering an enabling environment within women's institutions across the country.
DST also supports young girls in encouraging interest in STEM disciplines. The Vigyan Jyoti program represents a key pathway for young women to explore and excel in science and technology. Its main goal is to ignite and nurture a passion for STEM disciplines among girls, paving the way for their higher education and future careers. Implemented in 250 districts across 34 States/Union Territories of India, the school component of Vigyan Jyoti has already made a significant impact by enrolling approximately 25,000 talented girls from Class IX. to XII. These girls benefit from a variety of interventions and support mechanisms tailored to their educational and career aspirations in STEM. The program's diverse and comprehensive activities encompass aspects of education and career development. Student and parent counseling centers provide key guidance and support for navigating academic and career paths in STEM. Interactions with role models are key to inspiring and motivating girls to pursue their passions in STEM. These interactions provide first-hand insight into the experiences and accomplishments of women who have succeeded in various STEM fields, serving as beacons of inspiration and sources of guidance. Supportive academic courses and hands-on tinkering activities foster a conducive learning environment, allowing girls to explore and experiment with scientific concepts in a hands-on and engaging way. Specialized lectures, visits to scientific institutions/laboratories/industries, science camps and workshops further enrich the learning experience, exposing girls to real-world applications and exciting opportunities inherent in STEM disciplines.
By launching such schemes and enacting policy interventions such as Gender Advancement for Transforming Institutions (GATI) to support women, DST aims to break down barriers, challenge stereotypes and create a supportive ecosystem that empowers girls to thrive and excel in STEM fields. Through these coordinated efforts of the Government of India, a new generation of qualified and empowered women scientists, engineers, technologists and innovators can be created who will significantly contribute to the scientific and technological progress of India and global science as a whole.
(The author is an adjunct professor at
National Institute for Advanced Studies)

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