Women in Science -
Quality and Equality for sustainable human Development
European Regional Conference
The present European Regional Conference convened by the UNESCO National Commission of Slovenia constituted an innovative forum of discussion for an in-depth and creative approach to one of the decisive problems in our world today: the future commitment of science from a gender perspective.
Within the overall framework of achieving the UNESCO goal of equal partnership between men and women in all areas of human development and in the fields of science and technology, the Conference posed as its ultimate objective the achievement of equality for women and the integration of a gender perspective into the sciences. In the context of the European region, the participants addressed the issue of women in the sciences and examined the obstacles that still prevent equal involvement of women and men in scientific work and careers. Within a culture that envisions an egalitarian model of human development, participants explored and proposed actions and strategies targeted toward a gender understanding of scientific knowledge, the role of women in science and the transferral of scientific knowledge to women and men within the framework of a sustainable society. The examination of knowledge and its links to cultural values, sustainable development and the mobilisation of human creative potential were identified as key issues to be addressed in the discussion of quality and equality and its implications for the future. This ambitious agenda addressed the complexity and diversity of the problematic of women in science and a gender understanding of the sciences.
Gender mainstreaming was one of the underlying features of this Conference which provided a unique forum by supplying a platform for creative interaction and exchange among scientists who would not have had occasion to collaborate in other existing scientific forums. Scientists from the field of natural sciences, engineering, social sciences and the humanities with different background, training and methodologies and awareness of the issue of gender, met to address the agenda of the Conference. One of the singularities of the Conference has been the heterogeneity of scientific formation, conceptual framework and methodology, in itself an enriching experience of diversity within the field of the sciences, that has led to an overall awareness of different approaches, interests and interpretative patterns. The shared experience and reflection has been highly insightful to the complexities in the field. However, the acknowledgement of diversity and differences and the complexities of the issues involved, did not impede the capacity to generate common grounds to work and to elaborate collective strategies that provide for specificity while enhancing collective objectives and goals.
National delegations from 40 countries within the European region and representatives from UNESCO, the European Union (EU), the Latin American and Mediterranean Women´s Forums on Women and Science and the World Conference on Science for the Twenty-First Century: a New Commitment, all ensured maximum representation and the possibility to address the issues from different national and international contexts, shaped by recent and past histories, scientific development and the situation of women in society.
Gender mainstreaming was present not only in the formulation of the key issues and focus of the Conference but also, in an effective way, in the participation of male and female experts. Indeed, one of the initial outcomes of the Conference can be seen to have been the implementation of a small experiment in gender interaction in scientific exchange, transferral of knowledge and reflection. An enriching experience that has allowed for the engagement of male and females voices, in a very diverse collective voice, crossing gender lines and establishing common understandings among participants that surpassed on many occasions a gender divide in the understanding of the issues. The exchange of ideas, the acknowledgement of different stances and understandings, the challenge to hypothesis, the shared although often divergent approaches, have not provided answers but have contributed useful insights and addressed new questions that furnish the basis for proposing strategies and recommendations for the future.
Discussions at the Conference identified five key issues as crucial areas for future commitment to changing the situation of women and to gender issues in the sciences.
The numerous case studies on different countries presented by participants at Conference sessions accounted for a highly significant degrees of diversity in the situation of women in Europe and the ongoing processes of change that define and shape the situation of women in science.
A first outcome of the Conference is the acknowledgment of the need to recognise and engage with the issue of diversity in the situation of women in science in Europe and in the understanding of a gendered perspective of science.
One of the initial problems to emerge was the lack of available comprehensive, comparable data on the situation of women within the European region. Despite the requests from the organising committee, it was impossible to establish an overall view of statistical data on the situation of women scientists in Europe. Among the problems detected was the unavailablilty, disperse and often outdated nature of data. Furthermore, the lack of comprehensive statistics and comparable indicators made it impossible to establish a comparative survey of the situation of women in science in Europe, a necessary task in order to provide a solid basis for effective strategies to engage with the problems of women in science. In this context the establishment of a comprehensive database on Women and Gender in the Sciences in the European Region constitutes a necessary tool for the enhancement of the situation of women in science and for the integration of gender perspectives in its understanding.
One of the most significant conclusions of the Conference has been the identification of gender imbalance in the sciences as a major obstacle to the attainment of equal partnership between men and women and the achievement of sustainable develpment in the field.
Despite some exceptions, the data presented in a majority of national case studies demonstrated the existence of gender imbalance in the situation of women in science and at different levels of higher education and research institutions.
The first major trend to emerge in most European countries, with the exception of a number of Central and Eastern European countries, was the pattern of gender imbalance and exclusion. Women are less represented in the sciences and in general at higher educational institutions throughout Europe. Although there is an ongoing trend toward a greater presence of female students at undergraduate level, now representing in many cases 50% or more of the student body, and a significant growth in female PhD students, women are still very underrepresented at most higher educational institutions. The data provided for Slovenia can exemplify the situation in many European countries. With almost a century of female presence in higher education, in 1997 the University of Llublijana had 62% female graduates with 51% female students in postgraduate studies, however, it had a signficant gender imbalance at the level of staff as female faculty members represented just 19%. In most European countries the presence of women scientists is consistently lower than males in all disciplines and, particularly, in certain fields such as technological and engineering faculties.
Gender inequity is also reinforced on another significant level as women are very underrepresented at the higher levels of full professorship. One of the overriding observations of the data presented is the exclusion or significant deficit of women at top-level management and professorship posts. The implications of the absence of women at these top level decision making positions in educational systems are very significant as it marginalises women from the decisive chain in the allocation of research funding, human resources and the capacity for decision in the integration of staff members and the design of research projects. The absence of women scientists in top managerial positions in educational and research institutions and also at ministerial level, excludes female voices in an equal partnership in decisive decisions on the current and future orientation of science and technology .
A second pattern on the situation of women and science also emerged. Territorially defined in the context of a number of Central and Eastern European countries, it portrayed an image of inclusion and appeared to shed a different light on the presence and significance of women in the sciences. Data presented on Hungary, Poland and Russia and on a number of countries outside Europe such as China and Indonesia, initially provided an image of inclusion. In these countries women are present in a very significant way in higher educational and research institutions. They have a long ongoing tradition in the sciences and a certain degree of recognition as voices of scientific excellence in their field. The specific historical context of former communist countries and policies toward the integration of women in the labour market and higher education were among the explanatory features to explain the difference with respect to other European countries where women as yet have not achieved full integration in scientific and higher educational institutions. The contrast with other countries outside Europe like Indonesia leads undoubtedly to the need to revise gender imbalance within many European countries.
Discussion of the data presented in the cases of Hungary and Poland provided an illuminating understanding to the reading of the the trend toward gender balance and the feminisation of institutions of research and higher education in these countries. Reading and rereading data in the light of social and cultural contexts is the task of social scientists and historians. While acknowledging the importance of numerical data on the significant presence of women in the sciences, these papers provided a different analysis that sheds light on the need to review the issues of women in science within an interpretative framework that goes beyond a mere reading of numerical data to encompass its understanding in the framework of processes of social change. The contextual analysis of the situation of women in science showed that the numerical gender balance did not signify scientific or economic status. The increased presence of women in these areas was attributed to a number of negative factors such as significant decreases in salaries, status and resources and the shift of male scientists to the better remunerated and prestigious posts in the private sector in the country or abroad. Gender balance and increasing feminisation in science was a product of loss of resources, status and diminishing capacity to generate excellence in research.
This situation raises the general issue of the serious implications of the feminisation of scientific sectors and the development of status differences. In this sense, sustainable development of the position of women in the sciences is linked to the actual maintenance of resources in science.
A global development of the sciences and of gender equity implies the development of potential in this field and the allocation of resources to guarantee the continuity of excellence in the sciences in countries where scientific research is in danger. The situation of women in the sciences and the development of policies to implement further gender equity in these areas needs to take into account structural readjustments and processes of economic development that affect resources dedicated to education and the sciences. The challenge is to achieve and retain gender equity among scientists together with adequate resources that facilitate high standards in scientific excellence.
The understanding of the logic of exclusion\inclusion of women in the sciences is crucial for the development of effective strategies to achieve gender equity, equal parternship and the sustainable development of science.
Educational, cultural, and economic mechanisms provide a complex array of collective experience of exclusion or marginalisation of women in all areas of science. Ranging from the symbolic self representation as outsiders by Italian women scientists who do not identify with the content or male culture of science, to the professional experience of some women scientists as the only female expert in the field in a specific country, to the deficit of women scientists at top level positions in professorships and management, the mechanisms of inclusion\ exclusion can be understood as complex, non linear, multiple and opaque. In a century that has progressively led to the elimination of direct discriminatory practices, the challenge of the new millennium is to identify and eliminate practices of indirect discrimination and occult mechanisms of exclusion.
Many papers identified socio-cultural factors as crucial in the implementation of mechanisms of exclusion. In a historical survey, the prevalence of patriarchal culture, the historical influence of religions that allocated a subordinate position to women and the continuity of androcentric models of science were all identified as playing a key role in establishing gender codes and values that deter women´s integration into educational strands in the sciences and in pursuing careers in this field.
The lack of female role models as scientists and the prevalence of male culture associated with the sciences are among the detrimental factors that create a lack of identification of women with science and scientific projects. In this context, a forceful argument was made for the development of girl and women friendly training and educational programmes in the sciences as a tool to engage women´ s interest and to develop their self esteem in this area. As a pedagogical principle, meaningful apprenticeship is crucial in teaching processes. In this light the creation of projects more directly linked with women´s interests and an agenda toward a changing conception of science integrating gender approaches are key areas in addressing the issues of equality and quality in science.
The prevalence of hostile unsupportive working environments for women in research and higher educational institutions constitutes another occult mechanism of exclusion that prevents the full integration of female potential in the field. The Canadian experience of establishing a network for women in science as a support group could lead to a proposal in this direction for the European region, a strategy already in existence for many years by women in other disciplines such as history.
The widespread continuity of traditional cultural values regarding the lack of ability of girls in sciences and the attribution of differential gender roles and career expectations were stressed as significant deterrents in developing a sustained interest in the sciences by girls within the school system. While a paper on an elite research institution showed the excellence of scientific performance of female post doctoral students, traditional cultural definitions of gender roles and the absence of child care provision, were identified as crucial barriers in access to professional careers and to promotion within them. One of the key factors in differential gender experiences of women in science is the implication of life strategies, the establishment of priorities in the area of reproduction and the family and the unequal gender distribution of care provision in the family. The need to accommodate the specific situation of young women scientists with the option of motherhood and family and that of older female scientists in charge of the elderly speaks not only to the provision of child and elderly care services but to a cultural redefinition of the social worth of care services and their distribution in society.
Many arguments were presented to defend the integration of women into the sciences. The logic of inclusion presented was diverse and integrated different justifications and modes of thinking. The principle of individual democratic rights was one of the underlying justifications in the argument for the recognition of gender equity in the field of science. Human rights and social justice were framed as women´s right of access to all levels of education and their inclusion in scientific knowledge both as receivers of education and agents in the understanding of science.
Societal arguments were also forcefully presented in the logics of inclusion. Female literacy in science and technology is crucial for social and economic development. Education and access to technological and scientific know-how is a key factor to sustainable development globally and a significant tool for social change and progress in everyday life.
Market-oriented arguments in the context of competition, global market economy and the need for creativity also provide a compelling justification for women´s inclusion in the sciences. Within the logics of competitive society today, the exclusion of female talent, potential and creativity represents an inadmissible error and loss to science and constitutes an example of underutilisation of talent, creativity and human resources in society.
The specific contribution of female insights, working modes and concerns represents a strong legitimisation of inclusion. The focus here is on the specificity of women´s contribution to the sciences on the assumption that women will provide a gendered reading that will enhance research projects, processes of work and research methods and enrich in a more harmonious manner our understanding of the sciences.
In the context of the logic of exclusion and inclusion, strategies need to be devised to ensure the identification and understanding of the specific gender, cultural, social and economic mechanisms of exclusion that prevent the integration of women´s resources and potential in the sciences. A specific commitment is also needed to further the logic of inclusion and present its arguments to the media and to top decision policy makers and politicians as an effective mechanism for cultural changes that enhance women´ s role in the sciences.
Child care provision and care for the elderly;
A strong commitment to a new understanding of science and technology was identified as a further key issue of the Conference. A very strong argument was made for changing the conception of science to one linked with sustainable development, cultural vales and global interests of human society. Environmental global needs define the changing understandings of science and technology and their area of interests. In this framework, male and female scientists and elite research institutions play a crucial role while men and women and social collectives become involved as agents in the chain of development and meaning of science and technology in the global world today.
In this context, the new commitment of science targets the elimination of what have been described as the UNESCO intolerables: the problems of reproductive health, poverty, environmental degradation and violence. A further goal of this new understanding of science is the commitment to a gendered understanding of these problems.
The new understanding of science envisions a different approach to knowledge and learning processes that develop skills in critical understanding, effective applications, group learning and intelligence, creativity and inventiveness and the capacity to transfer knowledge. This also implies educational processes that foment self esteem and develop creativity and potential. A model of education that reflects the logic of inclusion and learning processes that provides a self image and response to the specific needs of students. Moreover, it calls for a vision of education as a continuous process no longer identified with youth but one that adapts to the needs of collectives in society throughout the life cycle, responding to innovation and changes in science and technology. Continuous training, adult education, retraining educators and the development of teaching methods that provide for diversity and cultural, historical and gender differences configure the agenda for the future. Despite the globalisation of society today, educational processes need to respond to diverse realities, cultural contexts and gender needs.
Developing science for the future also requires rethinking analytical categories or contrasting scientific analysis in a multidisciplinary approach in order to ensure the development of good science and scientific excellence within a culture of sustainable development. Male and female scientists must provide a bridge to society in order to ensure the transferral of specific scientific knowledge and to enhance a new cultural understanding of the role of science in society.
In the new understanding of science and values, the holistic approach to science engages with the need to incorporate a gender vision to its redefinition and commitment. Women cannot be excluded from the cognitive heritage of humankind either in the realm of scientific knowledge or more significantly as agents in the construction of science and its understanding. In the changing understanding of scientific and technological progress women in science contribute crucially to a different understanding of the social image, content and role of science and technology. The changing paradigms in scientific understanding require the incorporation of the diverse expression of women´ s voices, concerns and scientific expertise. One of the conclusions of the Conference is that an egalitarian model of human development and sustainable scientific research and knowledge requires gender equality and quality in its commitment.
The forthcoming UNESCO/ICSU World Conference on Science represents a highly significant forum for disseminating and integrating the agenda and recommendations emanating from the present Conference on Women in Science Quality and Equality. Conditions for Sustainable Development.
In this context, the agenda of the present Conference to promote equality and quality in the sciences at the Budapest Conference will be further enhanced by the recommendations and strategies proposed by the Latin American Forum on Women and Science and the outcome of the Mediterranean and African Forums on Women and Science .
The new millennium engages us with many challenges for sustainable development for humankind. The challenge of the present Conference in proposing a changing conception of science, gender equity and equal partnership of women and men in the sciences is the achievement of a more equitative distribution of scientific and technological knowledge as an instrument of sustainable development. This can no longer be a utopian vision for the new millennium. Men and women scientists have to implement strategies and alliances to effectively achieve this agenda in the European region and, in cooperation with other forums, in our global society.
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