Society and Culture

Why do so few girls opt for science and engineering in India?

The Joint Entrance Examination – Advanced (JEE – Advanced) results are out and coaching institutes have been proudly advertising their ‘successful’ candidates.

Jun 14, 2017
The Joint Entrance Examination – Advanced (JEE – Advanced) results are out and coaching institutes have been proudly advertising their ‘successful’ candidates. All most all advertisements have rows of photographs of bright young boys smiling at the camera. But where are the girls? This gender imbalance is not surprising because when it comes to STEM subjects --- science, technology, engineering, and mathematics --- it’s very much a boys’ club. The situation is so dire that earlier this month, a meeting of the joint admission board of IITs recommended an increase of 600 seats – a hike of 14% -- in the number of seats allotted to women, taking the quota to 1,440 seats. The committee also recommended awarding merit scholarships regardless of parental income to female students. Currently, women make up just 8% of the student strength at the 23 IITs across the country.
The IITs are among India’s best institutes and regularly rank high in global surveys but are plagued by a paltry number of women students, seen as Indian’s society’s belief that men are more suited for technical jobs. The other reason could be the preference for a “trouble-free” career.
While even developed countries have fewer female scientists, the crisis is different in India, says a report. In India, women do take up science for degrees, but few of them go on to pursue careers in this discipline. The reason hasn’t been performance, though. Because of the default role of a woman as a homemaker and society’s perception that only women are responsible for rearing children, marriage and not career is perceived to be the primary goal of a woman—no matter which profession she is in.
“If you are away from research in science, particularly experimental work, even for six months, your work gets left behind and you become irrelevant soon. If you choose to have both a career and a family, you do lose out because there is initially an age limit for projects which is 35 years and later, it is 55 years. So, at both ends, you end up losing,” wrote former chief scientist and head of the biophysics laboratory at the Central Leather Research Institute, Chennai, Aruna Dhathathreyan in Lilavati’s Daughters.
In a recent interview with HT, Melinda Gates spoke about how women are losing out by not taking up STEM subjects. ““Computer science offers the best jobs in the economy. The technology sector is connected to all industry, it offers great pay and the best opportunities, and girls are losing points by not studying STEM subjects,” she said. Getting girls hooked to science is a must. “One way could be through computer games, which are an entry point for boys. When I was growing up, they were gender neutral, but with the shooting and fighting games getting popular, girls lost interest,” added Gates. Then there is the question of role models.
If India wants more women doing science, the barriers ---- travel and safety limitations, centrality of career progression around male working patterns, inflexible work hours and negative stereotyping ---- have to be removed. There are no shortcuts in this roadmap.
Hindustan Times, June 14, 2017

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