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International Women’s Day 2020: #EachForEqual and Women in STEM

#EachForEqual, the theme for 2020 International Women’s day is a celebration for collective individualism. This attributes to standing for one's own thoughts, actions and ideals. Embracing the #EachForEqual theme means to make an enabled world, where celebrating women’s achievements and raising awareness against bias will help us take action for equality.

India has witnessed the history of many women who have taken pioneering steps in every field, challenged the patriarchal mentality and revolutionized the fields. Evidently, from the most recent achievements of Indian Women, we have Dr. Soumya Swaminathan as the Deputy Director General for Programmes (DDP) of WHO and the election of Dr. Gagandeep Kang to the Royal Society of London, making her the first woman from India to be elected. We are also aware of the story of women who played an important role in India’s Mars mission.

We have many reasons to celebrate the journey of women in claiming their space under the sun, but as a society we could do a lot more towards gender equality. There are many ways support can be extended to women. At the level of social conditioning, it would be helpful to avoid gendering of roles at home and at the workplace. The notion of the woman being the primary caretaker of the home and the primary caregiver to children, etc, should be reevaluated by individuals of all genders, in the backdrop of the social, technological, and cultural transformations the society has seen over the last couple of decades.

When it comes to supporting women in science, the basic question that arises is what is this support and how do we support?

Dr. Karishma S Kaushik who is an Assistant Professor and Ramalingaswami Re-entry fellow at the Institute of Bioinformatics and Biotechnology, University of Pune says “As an independent investigator, I would say, to put it very simply, support when it comes to supporting women in science is 'acknowledging' and 'accounting' for gender-specific challenges and issues that women in STEM careers face. This could range from everyday work-related matters such as scheduling meetings between 9-5 pm (and not at the extreme ends of the day) to major career matters such as age relaxation for prestigious awards and fellowships”.

Many women face challenges when it comes to their career progression after maternity/childbirth, which in turn affects their opportunities to take on leading roles. There are many fellowships available for women who have taken a break in their career and wish to get back to science, but institutional policies that address the issue of too few women in leadership roles are yet to be in place.

Cancer biologist and Associate Professor at IISER Pune Dr. Mayurika Lahiri shares here a few ways to support women in science: “To empower, enable and support women in science, it is imperative that a good daycare is available on campus so that parents can work peacefully while the children are well cared for. Another important aspect is for institutions to think progressively about tenure clock stoppage when confirmation and/or promotion is considered for women faculty/staff. Having women in positions of power such as Deans, Chairs or Directors is important as this brings about the visibility of women in science along with their administrative prowess. These women can also act as role models for younger women faculty.”

On this International Women’s Day, let us embrace the #EachForEqual call, while we cheer for the many women scientists, students and employees at our academic and research institutions. Let us just be us and contribute to collective individualism.

Article written by Gargi Deshmukh and edited by Dr. Shanti Kalipatnapu

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