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They Broke the Stereotypes: Women in Science

They Broke the Stereotypes: Women in Science

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  9 Feb 2019 12:25 PM GMT

In the age of transformation, where people are taking to equality at a larger scale (at least thinking about it and strategizing to implement it), we have some motivators that constantly catalyze our spirit of get going. However, the other side of the coin reflects a grim picture of reality as well that shows unruly and illogical gender biases.

The biases are to an extent that even existence of a female is questioned. Forgetting female feticide and infanticide has never been an option as such incidences keep us reminding. Moreover, if a girl child succeeds to stay alive in gender-biased environment then nourishment and supply of resources are even questioned, giving appropriate diet to the boys (believed as future bread winners) and food given to the girls to keep them alive. In such a scenario, making a girl be educated becomes a big question, another one, especially when she is considered only as a burden that needs to rid-off after getting her married.

While, we stay in a country where gods are equally revered with goddesses, it becomes difficult follow the ethics and justification of exercising discrimination between genders. This discrimination is lethal to various extents that living and dying becomes options that are steered by unworthy hands. These are those hands, which are controlled by a brain with flaws in the thought process. However, fortunately there are women who have proven all wrong. There are women who have gone out of the narrow conventions to make a mark. They cared nothing before treading the paths that lead to the fulfilment of their dreams.

They have changed the way of thinking that cooking is no more only a girl’s job, and girls can also study the tougher subjects like Maths, Science, Accounting and others. Ad girl can also do tougher jobs like police services, journalist, detective, field investigators, etc. Subjects and jobs are no longer gender-ized; this is what they have showcased. Case in point is their own case pointed at all those who underestimated the potential of a girl.

Science and gender equality are both vital for the achievement of the internationally agreed development goals, including the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Over the past 15 years, the global community has made a lot of effort in inspiring and engaging women and girls in science. Yet women and girls continue to be excluded from participating fully in science.

At present, less than 30 per cent of researchers worldwide are women. According to UNESCO data (2014 - 2016), only around 30 per cent of all female students select STEM-related fields in higher education. Globally, female students’ enrolment is particularly low in ICT (3 per cent), natural science, mathematics and statistics (5 per cent) and in engineering, manufacturing and construction (8 per cent).

Long-standing biases and gender stereotypes are steering girls and women away from science related fields. As in the real world, the world on screen reflects similar biases—the 2015 Gender Bias Without Borders study by the Geena Davis Institute showed that of the onscreen characters with an identifiable STEM job; only 12 per cent were women.

In order to achieve full and equal access to and participation in science for women and girls, and further achieve gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, the United Nations General Assembly adopted resolution A/RES/70/212 declaring 11 February as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science.

On the occasion of International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we are going to discuss about some of the women scientists, who have carved a niche in their genre of studies. If you search on Google, 20thcentury women scientists of India, you’ll find at least 200 names listed in the Wikipedia. 20th century, imagine! It’s an era when equality had begun sprouting.

If you search online, who is the first woman scientist of India then it will lead you to an answer, Asima Chatterjee. Asima Chatterjee received a master's degree (1938) and a doctoral degree (1944) in organic chemistry from the University of Calcutta. She was the first Indian woman to earn a doctorate in science.

She was an Indian organic chemist noted for her work in the fields of organic chemistry and phytomedicine. Her most notable work includes research on vinca alkaloids, the development of anti-epileptic drugs, and development of anti-malarial drugs. She also authored a good volume of work on medicinal plants of the Indian subcontinent. She was the first woman to receive a Doctorate of Science from an Indian university.

Apart from Asima Chatterjee, another woman who is known for her scientific research works is Janaki Ammal Edavalath Kakkat. Born in 1897, Janaki was an Indian botanist who conducted an extensive scientific research in cytogenetics and phytogeography. Her most notable work involves those on sugarcane and the eggplant (Brinjal). She has collected various valuable plants of medicinal and economic value from the rain forests of Kerala. She was arguably the first woman to obtain a Ph.D. in botany in the U.S. (1931). She also remains one of the few Asian women to be conferred a D.Sc. (honoris causa) by her alma mater, the University of Michigan. After her doctorate, she returned to India to take up a post as Professor of Botany at the Maharaja's College of Science, Trivandrum, and taught there from 1932 to 1934, after which until 1939 she worked as a geneticist at the Sugarcane Breeding Institute, Coimbatore along with Charles Alfred Barber. Her work during these years included cytogenetic analysis of Saccharum spontaneumas well as generation of several intergeneric crosses such as Saccharum x Zea, Saccharum x Sorghum. From 1940 to 1945, she worked as an Assistant Cytologist at the John Innes Horticultural Institution in London, and as cytologist at the Royal Horticultural Society at Wisley from 1945 to 1951. During this period she published counts of chromosome numbers in species such as Sclerostachya fusca. She is best remembered for co-authoring the monumental work, "Chromosome Atlas of Cultivated Plants" along with C. D. Darlington.

Even before Janaki, Anandi Gopal Joshi (1865 - 1887), along with KadambiniGanguly, was the women who entered the field of science. Both were one of the first Indian women to be qualified by doctors to practice western medicine. Her life was full of hardships; married at 9 to a widower 20 years older than her. At 14, she gave birth to a son who died shortly afterwards. Her infant's death due to inadequate medical care inspired her to become a physician. Her husband encouraged her to join the class of 1889 at the Women's College of Pennsylvania, and it was the first women's medical program in the world. On returning to India, she was made the physician-in-charge of the female ward of the local Albert Edward Hospital in Kolhapur. However, her saga couldn’t be longer as she died before turning 22.

Mangala Narlikar, an Indian mathematician, has worked in the field of Arithmetics, covering both Simple Arithmetic and Advanced Mathematics, at the University of Pune and the University of Mumbai. She is one of the few women mathematics researchers in the country.This ever motivated scientist completed her PhDafter 16 years of marriage.

Having worked at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), she published several books on mathematical topics in both English and Marathi. She has been conferred with the Vishwanath Parvati Gokhale Award 2002 for one of her books in Marathi. Also as a teacher, she is popularly known for her teaching methods that make mathematics an interesting subject for the students.

Priyambada Mohanty Hejmadi, an Indian classical dancer of Odissi, art writer, a biologist, was a former vice chancellor of Sambalpur University. She obtained a doctoral degree in zoology. She helped the dance form to gain international attention. A Fellow of the Indian Academy of Sciences, Priyambada has written several articles and a book, Odissi: An Indian Classical Dance Form. She is also a recipient of the Odissi Nrutya Sanman in 2013 and the fourth highest civilian award of the Padma Shri in 1998 for her contributions to the fields of science and technology.

Aditi Pant is the first Indian woman to travel to Antarctica, as a part of the 1983 Indian expedition, to study geology and oceanography. She is also an oceanographer. Inspired by Alister Hardy’s book The Open Sea, she pursued her MS in Marine Sciences, with a scholarship from the US government, at the University of Hawaii.

She completed her PhD at the London’s Westfield College. When she returned to India, she joined the National Institute of Oceanography in Goa. She has conducted coastal studies and has travelled the entire Indian west coast.

Indira Hinduja, an Indian gynaecologist and infertility specialist, who is known to be the first scientist to deliver a test tube baby in India. She is a forerunner of the gamete intra-fallopian transfer technique (GIFT), and has also delivered India’s first GIFT baby. She is also known for the oocyte donation technique she has developed for premature ovarian failure, and menopausal patients.

Paramjit Khurana,a scientist in the field of Plant Biotechnology, Genomics, and Molecular Biology, is a passionate researcher. She has published over 125 scientific papers. She is a professor at the Plant Molecular Biology Department of the University of Delhi. On the occasion of International Women’s Day in 2011, she was honoured withthe ‘Certificate of Honour’ from the Gantavaya Sansthan.

Kalpana Chawla,an American astronaut, engineer and the first female of Indian origin to go to space, was known to fly the Space Shuttle Columbia in 1997 as a mission specialist and primary robotic arm operator. In 2003, she was one of the seven crew members who died in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster when the spacecraft disintegrated during its re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere. She was posthumously awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, and several streets, universities and institutions have been named in her honor.

Sunetra Gupta, a Zoologist, novelist and a professor of Theoretical Epidemiology at Oxford University,has been studying infectious disease-carrying agents that cause influenza and malaria, among others. She has been honoured by the Zoological Society of London with the Scientific Medal. For her contribution to science, she has also received the Royal Society Rosalind Franklin Award.

Nandini Harinath, a rocket scientist at the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) Satellite Centre in Bengaluru, draws her inspiration from the popular television series, “Star Trek.” She has worked on 14 missions in her 20 years of work. She was leading the operations as the deputy operations director for the Mangalyaan mission.

Darshan Ranganathan, an organic chemist known for her work in bio-organic chemistry, includes "pioneering work in protein folding" and "supramolecular assemblies, molecular design, chemical simulation of key biological processes, synthesis of functional hybrid peptides and synthesis of nanotubes." She received an 1851 Research Fellowship from the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851.

Rohini Godbole,an Indian physicist known for her extensive work in the Particle Phenomenology. She is a professor at the Centre for High Energy Physics of the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru. She has worked on Particle Phenomenology for over 30 years. She is also interested in exploring the Standard Model of Particle Physics (SM). She is an elected fellow at all the three Indian Science academies and the Science Academy of the Developing World.

India is blessed to many more women scientists, whose contribution to the development of the society will always remain incomparable and unforgettable. The UN website mentioned in an article, “Long-standing biases and gender stereotypes are steering girls and women away from science related fields. These biases set in early—for instance, a recent study in the journal Science showed that by age 6, girls are already less likely than boys to describe their own gender as ‘brilliant’, and less likely to join an activity labelled for ‘very, very smart’ kids. Another study that surveyed 9,500 girls and young women aged 11 to 18 in nine European countries revealed some shocking facts: in Finland, 62 per cent of teenage girls said that science was an important field, and yet only 37 per cent said they would consider a career in that field. As in the real world, the world on screen reflects similar biases—the 2015 Gender Bias Without Borders study by the Geena Davis Institute showed that of the onscreen characters with an identifiable STEM job; only 12 per cent were women. The future of jobs is in the field of science and technology, with 90 per cent of future jobs requiring ICT skills, and some 2 million new jobs expected in the computer, mathematical, architecture and engineering fields. Fulfilling the vision of the Sustainable Development Goals requires innovative solutions powered by science and technology for a range of issues, from climate change, health and infrastructure to economic development. For a future that benefits women equally as men, now is the time to smash the gender bias and enable girls and women to access and excel in science.”

On the occasion of International Day of Women and Girls in Science, it is imperative to point out that girls should beallowed to study the streams they’re interested in be it in science, humanities and others. Moreover, it is necessary that girls are allowed to be educated and sufficient facilities are also given to them to fulfill their education, because when a woman gets educated she educates her family, and this is how generations make a progress in real sense.

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