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18th September 2023 (10 Topics)

Invisible women of science

Context:

The Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize, an esteemed scientific award in India, has consistently overlooked women scientists, with only 19 out of nearly 600 recipients being women, despite women constituting 14% of the country's working scientists.

Gender Disparity in Scientific Awards

  • Persistent Gender Gap: The Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize, a prestigious scientific award in India, has faced consistent criticism for its failure to recognize women scientists. Out of nearly 600 awardees, only 19 have been women, highlighting a significant gender disparity in this recognition.
  • Impact of the Bhatnagar Prize: Beyond individual recognition, the Bhatnagar Prize also elevates the profile of the recipient's institution. This ongoing gender disparity not only affects women scientists' careers but also reflects on the scientific community's inclusivity and fairness.
  • Inadequate Justification: While women constitute about 14% of India's working scientists, the argument that "there aren't enough women" to justify this persistent gap is undermined by the continued underrepresentation of women in scientific awards.

Opaque Selection Process and Lack of Transparency

  • Non-transparent Selection Process: The main issue contributing to gender disparities in the Bhatnagar Prize is the lack of transparency in the selection process. Nominees are chosen by senior figures in the scientific community, primarily men, leading to biases and discrimination.
  • Need for Representation: The absence of gender diversity in the bodies responsible for nominations perpetuates gender biases and discrimination, making it crucial to increase the representation of women in nominating bodies and decision-making processes.
  • Calls for Accountability: To address these disparities effectively, there is an urgent need for transparent nomination processes, the inclusion of more women in key nominating roles, and public statements of intent from institutions to promote gender equity, fostering inclusivity and fairness in the Indian scientific community.

Challenges and the Path Forward

  • Diverse Challenges: Women in science continue to face challenges like ageism, casteism, sexism, and the dominance of old boys' clubs, hindering their careers and limiting inclusivity in the Indian scientific community.
  • Recent Initiatives: Some steps have been taken to address gender disparities, including the appointment of N. Kalaiselvi as the first woman chief of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and a gender parity survey conducted by CSIR.
  • Urgent Need for Accountability: Despite these initiatives, the ongoing gender gap in prestigious scientific awards calls for greater accountability and proactive measures to ensure equal recognition and opportunities for women scientists in India.
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