and gender, science, engineering
Priorities for Science in the 21st Century
The afore-mentioned AsiaPacific Conference was designed as part of the preparation for the World Conference on Science to be held in Budapest in 1999. Delegations from the following countries participated: Australia, Bangladesh, China, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Kiribati, Korea (Popular Democratic Republic of), Laos (Republic of), Malaysia, New Zealand, Ouzbekistan, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Samoa, Salomon Islands, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Tonga, Vanuatu, Vietnam. Individuals from Argentina, Ecuador and Slovenia also attended.
The Conference provided an opportunity to review the scientific issues that affect this region, to identify priorities, and to explore ways of implementing programmes that address those priorities. The meeting provided the occasion to identify as one of the priorities the issue relating to women and gender in science, engineering and technology (SET). The present report endeavours to present the results of the discussions of the group on Women in Science and the papers read at the Conference, particularly those of Achmad and Hermawati (1), and Ancog (2). Furthermore, the present report consistently adheres to a Conference decision to use appropriately SET for science, engineering and technology, in preference to science and technology or S&T.
A review of the emergence of the issue of women and gender in SET during the four world conferences on women organized by the United Nations discloses that there are four most persistent aspects which are considered essential for the advancement of women in SET. These are:
At the 1980 World Conference of the United Nations Decade for Women: Equality, Development and Peace, held in Copenhagen (Denmark), SET education was beginning to be seen as a prerequisite for the attainment of womens real and equal participation in decision-making processes. The mid-Decade Conference held in Nairobi five years later to review progress began to be more specific about the importance of womens participation in SET decision-making. The Science and Technology section of the Area for Specific Action of the Nairobi Forward-Looking Strategies for the Advancement of Women to the year 2000 stated that the full and effective participation of women in the decision-making and implementation process related to SET should be enhanced. In the Beijing Platform for Action document produced by the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women: Action for Equality, Development and Peace (Beijing, China, 1995), concern over the under-representation of women in the decision-making structures and processes related to SET was highlighted in eight of the twelve critical areas identified by the Beijing Conference, namely: women and poverty, education and training, women and health, women and the economy, women in power and decision-making, women and the media, women and the environment, and the girl child. Although the following conferences did not specifically deal with women and gender in SET, they did address the pivotal role of SET, including social sciences, in overcoming or eliminating problems encountered and in furthering progress: United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1992), World Conference on Human Rights (Vienna, Austria, 1993), International Conference on Population and Development (Cairo, Egypt, 1994) and the World Summit on Social Development (Copenhagen, Denmark, 1995).
Since 1996, with the introduction of the issue of women and gender in SET into the activities of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and the launching of the Women Leaders Network from APEC economies (1), women and gender in SET has been on the agenda of most APEC fora, committees and ministerial level meetings, in particular the Industrial S&T (IST) Committee and Ministerial Meetings and programmes. The APEC Agenda for S&T Industry Cooperation into the 21st Century was considered by the APEC IST ministers at their meeting in Mexico in November 1998. It is important to note that the agenda states, among others, that in the knowledge-based economy, human resources are the key elements of growth and that creative scientific and technical men and women are indispensable not only to fuel innovation but to underpin sustainable industrial productivity and to improve the quality of life. The agenda also requests that collaboration and joint research activities be undertaken to have industrial relevance and contribute to sustainable economic growth that would benefit all APECs people, including women and youth. At the APEC Ministerial Meeting on Women (2), the participating Ministers issued a landmark Joint Ministerial Statement encompassing the concerns for gender on the theme Women in Economic Development and Cooperation in APEC. Highlighting the theme Women In Industrial Science and Technology, the Ministers asserted: In the new global, knowledge-based economy, competitive advantage requires a highly skilled and diversified workforce that will increase productivity and fuel innovation. Economies need the talent of their entire population, male and female, to create a leading-edge workforce. This will be achieved through policies that place greater emphasis on science and technology education and training for skills upgrading and reskilling. It further implies the full utilization of womens talent and competence in these fields. The Ministers further commended the APEC Ministers of Science who, at the Conference on Regional Science and Technology Cooperation held in 1996, recognized the importance of removing barriers and promoting the full contribution of women to science and technology as essential elements in meeting APECs goal of achieving sustainable and equitable development as well as the need to strengthen the exchange of scientific and technical men and women across the region.
Nebres and Mercado (5), in their paper, looked at the data on science education in the AsiaPacific region and noted gender differences across countries and across science-related disciplines. In Australia, New Zealand and the Philippines, females outnumber males in the health sciences. In all the countries surveyed, males outnumber females in engineering.
The region also shows great distinctions in science achievement as measured through the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). In terms of gender differences, for example, at 4th grade level, there is no statistical difference in achievement between boys and girls in New Zealand, Singapore and Thailand, but significantly stronger achievement for boys in Australia, Hongkong, Japan and Korea. The situation is similar at 8th grade level, but now boys also have a significantly better achievement than girls in New Zealand. The Philippines unweighted data show the girls performing slightly better than the boys except in physics.
Data on how students perceive success in the sciences have been analysed as well. Interestingly, most students ìtended to agree that they did well in the sciences a perception that did not always coincide with their achievement in the TIMSS science test. There are significant gender differences here, with 8th grade girls in Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand and Singapore reporting significantly lower self-perceptions than boys about doing well in science. Differences are noted with respect to subject areas as well, with the physical sciences having the largest number of countries where boys reported higher self-perception than girls. In the biological sciences, very little difference exists across all countries between boys and girls in their self-perception about doing well. These differences in the self-perception of boys and girls across the science subject areas correspond to the higher performance of boys in the physics and chemistry content areas of the TIMSS science test.
The following are the key issues identified in the discussion groups on women and gender in SET:
To assess the scope of the present situation of women in SET careers in public and private sectors, it is essential for policy purposes to establish a system of collecting gender-disaggregated data at the local, national and international levels. A conceptual framework for SET statistics, and identification of critical information needs and data collection, among others, needs to be set up. It is also necessary to develop methodologies that allow cross-cultural dissemination, exchange and comparisons of gender-disaggregated SET data over time.
Gender-disaggregated data provide insights on key issues in women and gender in SET and identify the critical data elements necessary to reveal the causal relationship between the womens level of SET education/training and their roles in the labour market and the economy. The availability of gender-sensitive statistics provides the means for coordination and collaboration among networks of SET statistical experts and experts on gender issues.
To enhance gender sensitivity in agricultural projects (2), the Philippine Council for Agricultural and Forestry Research and Development initiated the establishment of a database on gender and conducts periodic orientation in agricultural universities and colleges. In Indonesia (1), gender-disaggregated statistics were prepared and published in the late 1980s by the Indonesian Central Bureau of Statistics in close cooperation with the State Ministry for the Role of Women. The statistics cover the fields of population, education, labour force, health, marriage and family planning, family formation, crime, participation in socio-cultural activities and politics. This publication has been updated every two years, the last one being published in 1996. However, reliable gender-disaggregated data on involvement in science and technology, including careers in SET areas, are available only for the government sector and on a very limited scale in the private sector.
The question of having families and being serious full-time scientist constitutes a major dilemma for women pursuing careers in SET. Present employment and promotion criteria and policies do not allow for family responsibilities. McGregor and Harding (2) assert that the most frequently reported barrier to women in science and technology is the challenge of combining career and family. Furthermore, Ancog (2) explains that women who give priority to child-bearing and child-rearing during periods critical to career development and promotion within the current reward systems suffer the career consequences.
Clearly, there is need for improvement in the decision-making mechanisms within the SET career development system to ensure articulation of the gender-specific needs and goals of women and men in society.
In Indonesia (1), the small number of women who graduated from foreign universities indicates that women have had problems or difficulties in taking advantage of available fellowships for study abroad, even if donor countries or organizations allocate 2530% of their fellowship to women. Data of higher degree attainment indicate that the proportion of women recipients of scholarships or research awards is lower than for men and these are usually in the 3039 age group. Generally, married women in this age group, heavily laden with family responsibilities, miss out on opportunities.
Where men and women do not equally share children and household work it is frequently women who sacrifice their education and career opportunities to the home and family. Such choices so long as society and SET institutions do not value them will result in lost opportunities to advance careers and compete for tenure or overseas scholarships and constitute a loss to the SET community (2). In Australia, Stocklmayer (7) points out, there is still a serious gender imbalance in many areas. In postgraduate science careers, many young women are unable to balance demands of family with a funding structure that is utterly consuming of their time and energy and which may require many sacrifices, including relocation, in a climate of endless uncertainty, all in the name of pursuit of soft grant money.
Serious consideration is clearly required of alternative work arrangements and family-friendly policies in SET careers. Such arrangements as flexible hours, flexible locations, provisions for child-care, maternity and paternity leave policies show commitment to the hiring, promotion and career development of women in SET while adhering to the merit principles.
Pinna G. Abir-am (2), on disciplinarity, asserted that the distribution of women scientists across disciplines is skewed while reflecting a historical accumulation of cultural stereotypes. She pointed out that the stereotype is evident in medicine, a field compatible with the cultural image of women as nurturers and a concentration on pediatrics, obstetrics and psychiatry. It has been commonly observed that traditional family and cultural values do not support womens participation in SET.
Coomaraswamy (3), in her country paper, points out that, although educational policies in Sri Lanka provide free primary, secondary and higher education to all, regardless of gender, thereby providing boys and girls with equal opportunities, a discipline-based analysis indicates the existence of gender-stereotyping in primary and secondary schools where girls choose non-science subjects. At the tertiary level there is under-representation of women in the field of science, engineering and other technology-related fields. Among students entering the universities, male students have been found to perform better, with the disparity highest in physical sciences. These observations very well agree with those of Nebres and Mercado (5).
Women working in the pharmaceutical and other industries in Indonesia (1) have realized that automation and the introduction of high technology has made the work easier, less burdening and less hazardous. However, it has been accompanied by employer policies replacing women by men traditionally considered as the focus of technology.
In APEC countries, Ng (6) reports that one of the emerging trends regarding information technology, gender and employment is that the value of womens work, particularly in the industrial sector, is still perceived as inferior and secondary to mens work and is thus not rewarded despite technological changes.
There is a need to increase the number of women in science and technology decision-making and policy advisory bodies. Decision-makers should be made to understand the gender implications of their decisions. Women and men should be equally involved in the determination of research priorities and in the design and implementation of technology and development programmes.
In the case of the Philippines (2), the number of women holding senior academic positions such as deanship and chairmanship of science departments is increasing. Perhaps this is the exception rather than the rule. It appears that the gains in a few countries like the Philippines are not easily replicable in the workplaces in other countries. On the other hand, while women constitute the majority of the work force in public-sector agricultural research, they are underrepresented in senior and management positions. More women than men occupy junior-level positions, while men are twice as likely as women to hold senior-level positions.
McGregor and Harding (2) cited the disparity in salaries for equivalent work as well as the lag in promotions and tenure of women in their workplaces, causing a dampening effect upon womens aspirations and expectations. Significantly, they called attention to the glass ceiling for women in science and technology decision-making bodies the higher in the system, the fewer the proportion of women. They further pointed out that this phenomenon cannot be attributed only to a smaller supply pipeline. Appointments are not keeping pace with the increased number of professional women candidates with experience.
In Sri Lanka (3), although constitutionally women should enjoy equal rights with men, there are cultural, religious, attitudinal, political and economic constraints to women achieving their full potential through gender equality. Although career prospects for women in the public sector are theoretically equal to those of men, the percentage of women in decision-making positions and science and technology institutions is very low.
Up to now, women in Indonesia have remained traditionally centred in a limited number of industrial sectors and clustered at the bottom of the rank. In general, Indonesian women are under-represented in SET policy and decision-making structures. (1)
The 1995 United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for Development (UNCSTD) Transformative Actions stipulated gender equity in SET education. This implies that:
In Indonesia (1), the percentage of girls at all levels of education is lower than that of men, particularly at the higher level of education. Available information on public higher education shows that the percentage of women in the field of SET is lower than that of men and women are more under-represented in the higher grades, specially in Engineering Technology and Mathematics and Natural Sciences. It is an accepted fact that most girls frequently experience unequal access to opportunities in education because of socio-economic and cultural obstacles.
A Philippine initiative is worth looking into. The Science Education Institute of the Philippine Department of Science and Technology (2) administers a scholarship programme for science, science teaching, engineering, three-year technical courses or two-year technical courses for students who have completed their secondary education. Mandated by RA No.7687 (1994), the mass-based scholarship programme benefits students who compete in a national examination. For the years 19941997, the proportion of male and female scholars was almost equal. It is anticipated that, given the budgetary support required to sustain this programme, the number of women in science and technology in the Philippines will increase through the years. This has implications on the composition of the future workforce and contribution of women to the economy. This implies that the future of women in science will be brighter with bigger opportunities for women to pursue scientific work in laboratories. Women can aspire to achieve breakthroughs in the scientific world. This optimistic scenario assumes that the government will patiently pursue gender-sensitive programmes and faithfully monitor the extent in which women scholars are tracked into science and technology careers after they complete their tertiary education.
Those working in SET have been taught that their task is objective, driven only by the internal attributes of the problems defining the job, and socially neutral when it comes to the influence of the power elite or other interest groups. It is easily assumed that the organizational and professional structures within SET, including advanced training and career development opportunities, are also socially neutral. Seeing them as objectively and typically arising from doing science, engineering or technology, the ways in which the SET workforce is organized tend to be taken for granted and to go unquestioned. Thus these traditional ways and their impact on the lives of women and men involved in SET are often not analysed until difficulties arise and someone asks why things cannot be done differently. The particular issues and problems are usually different from one workplace to another.
There is a clear need for training programmes that promote awareness and increase understanding of gender-specific needs and goals of women and men in SET organizations. The ideas of both women and men in the SET workforce should be sought to ensure distinct articulation of the gender implications of decisions taken, especially in such areas as determination of research and training priorities. Policies against gender discrimination and harassment should be instituted and implemented in the workplace. All SET activities must undergo gender impact analysis before implementation.
In order to enhance women's participation and advancement in SET, work and training must be organized in ways that take equal account of women's and men's life-course patterns. For example, an AUSAID scheme bringing scientists to Australia for postgraduate training and which does not provide work visas for the accompanying spouse, is likely to have difficulties attracting women scientists from countries where men are expected to be the bread-winner. Another point of concern is that of women who have grown up in a culture of harassment in traditionally male-dominated professional areas. In Australia, for instance, among engineering students and navy technicians, if women now entering these areas are to be given an equal chance of success, their specific needs should be addressed. Similarly, while adhering to merit principles, women scientists and engineers who choose to have children should not be penalized and made to follow a lesser career, but should be encouraged with the institution of alternative work arrangements allowing for family responsibilities.
In any deficient situation, the worst affected would be the weakest, namely women. Unhealthy cooking practices in smoke-filled kitchens affect the health of housewives and young children in India, reports Kipgen (4) in her country paper. Inefficient traditional cook-stoves consume more firewood. As forest-cover shrinks, women have to walk greater distances to collect fuel-wood. Since so much time is involved in meeting the cooking energy needs of the household, women are unable to spare anytime for social interaction or for income-generating activities. The National Improved Cook-Stove Programme has provided Indian housewives with a low-cost, low-technology device which saves them from drudgery, makes cooking smoke-free and more energy-efficient, and gives them time to be involved in micro-enterprises. Provision of domestic lighting as well has enabled women to work conveniently and safely. Indias Programme on Women and Renewable Energy benefited women, as it addressed the cooking and lighting needs of households. Similar experiences in Indonesia have been related (1).
Among APEC countries, writes Ng (6), an emerging trend in information technologies, gender and employment is that of women employees, who are usually not consulted when new technologies are introduced into the factory or office. They and the unions which represent them do not have any knowledge of the introduction of these technologies. It is only in the smaller firms that are information and communication technology-intensive, like software firms, where forms of fluid management practices occur in a virtual enterprise setting, that employee participation and cooperation are incorporated. Best practices are often introduced into these software firms where, more often than not, womens prospects for promotion are quite positive. Hence, as noted by Gunnarsson (1997:73) (6), when teleworking is not only seen by managers as a means of relocating work, but also coincides with modern management strategies aiming at a less hierarchical organization, it will probably lead to an increase in gender equality.
Ng (6) reports that an emerging trend in information technologies, gender and employment among APEC countries is the introduction of new occupational health hazards with the advent of information and communication technologies. Computerization has introduced new work hazards, such as RSI related to work on video display terminals. Womens reproductive health will also be made more vulnerable. With increased competition under the current trade regime, workers have been required to push up their productivity, increasing their labour intensity under the gaze and surveillance of the computer monitoring key-strokes and telephone conversations. Similar conditions have been observed in companies moving their labour-intensive processes to developing countries where factories often employ women from rural areas who usually have no other employment options and are unaware of means of protecting themselves against unreasonable working conditions. While attracting such enterprises is an important part of the economic strategy of developing countries and women often welcome the opportunity for waged work, it is also important that nations build and sustain schemes that help women negotiate favourable working conditions not damaging to health. Governments should not stand back and allow the health of their women to be sacrificed for short-term gains. As womens jobs are 'modernized,' women's lives and health should be improved.
Programs are urgently needed that put S&T into the hands of poor women, assisting them in improving nutrition, health, water quality, safety from violence, livelihood security, sustainable energy access, and education. The elimination of the feminization of poverty is the first strategic objective of the Beijing Plan of Action. The Chennai Declaration (December 1997) resulted from a meeting of women scientists held at the Swaminathan Institute in 1997. This meeting was sponsored by the UNDP Asia-Pacific. The Chennai Declaration recommends the use of biotechnology applications to help alleviate feminized poverty. The over-riding drive is for women to gain access to technology. But women should not be incorporated only as passive recipients. Women's needs and knowledge must be incorporated into the technological research phase of projects, and into research on dissemination. The Chennai resolutions envisage biotechnology parks, linked with suitable scientific institutions. These parks would be active in research, but they would also operate as training and education centers. This would build on the training work already being done by a thriving NGO women's technology exchange network- Ecowoman - which has active training programs in place in Fiji and Samoa. One strategy for poverty alleviation, for example, would be to retrain women farmers and horticulturists in techniques for improving food security through plant diversification. Soil health is seen to be important, and vermiculture is mentioned. Post harvest food processing activities, seed production (sale & use), and pollution prevention and control are also referred to. For the larger Asian nations, a biotech park may be viable. For smaller Pacific nation states, a biotechnology network is recommended as more viable, possibly linked to the Institute of Applied Science of the University of the South Pacific (USP). USP is already developing a number of community based technologies. A database of biotechnologies suitable to the Pacific region is to be established, including some of the more advanced ideas from the Chennai meeting. Implementation of the Chennai agreement is urgent. And, the model used for the Chennai meeting could usefully be replicated for other areas of science. The Chennai Declaration established a resource group of women scientists committed to bringing the benefits of science to poor women. Women, particularly rural women, are disproportionately numerous amongst the worlds poor. The agreement recognized that womens social and economic status declines in direct relation to the intensification of womens poverty and the degradation of the resources available to women to meet their own and their childrens needs.
Thus, the discussion group on Women and Gender in SET recommends the following actions, programmes and initiatives to UNESCO, governments and other organizations. If we are to provide for a new commitment to science and to do this soon, we must acknowledge that science itself must become more flexible, more willing to adapt to local knowledge and local interests, less global and more regional, and more accessible to everyone whatever their gender, Stocklmayer (7) appropriately declares.
Furthermore, Achmad and Hermawati (1) advocate the formation of a Regional Secretariat for Gender, Science and Technology in Southeast Asia and the Pacific.
(1) Achmad, S. and Hermawati, W. Gender in Science: The Case of Indonesia and the Regional Secretariat for Gender, Science and Technology in Southeast Asia and the Pacific . Paper to the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Conference on Science for the 21st Century, 1-5 December, 1998, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia.
(2) Ancog, A. Women in Science. Paper to the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Conference on Science for the 21st Century, 1-5 December, 1998, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia.
(3) Coomaraswamy, U. Women in Science and Development: A Sri Lankan Perspective. Paper to the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Conference on Science for the 21st Century, 1-5 December, 1998, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia.
(4) Kipgen, K. Renewable Energy For Sustainable Development in the 21st Century. Paper to the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Conference on Science for the 21st Century, 1-5 December, 1998, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia.
(5) Nebres, B. and Mercado, L. Science Education. Paper to the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Conference on Science for the 21st Century, 1-5 December, 1998, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia.
(6) Ng, C. Gender Friendly Information Technology: Policies for APEC. Paper presented at the International Conference on "The Engagement of Civil Society in the APEC Process," October 5-7, 1998, Penang, Malaysia.
(7) Stocklmayer, S. Response: Gender Issues. . Presentation to the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Conference on Science for the 21st Century, 1-5 December, 1998, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia.