Skip to main content

Article Category


Article available in the folowing languages:

Developing the position of women in science and research

More than 300 people - the vast majority of them women - participated in the Women and Science conference held in Brussels on 28 and 29 April 1998. The event, which was jointly organized by the European Commission and European Parliament, aimed to look at the factors discourag...

More than 300 people - the vast majority of them women - participated in the Women and Science conference held in Brussels on 28 and 29 April 1998. The event, which was jointly organized by the European Commission and European Parliament, aimed to look at the factors discouraging women from taking on a career in science, and restricting the progress of those that do, as well as discussing measures to improve women's position in European science. Whilst the participants were all agreed that women are under-represented in the scientific community in Europe, many reasons for this were put forward and differing viewpoints on measures to rectify the situation were in evidence. Whilst some favour the targeting of public funding on research conducted by women, others believe that their aims can be better achieved through a process of raising awareness, in particular in scientific communities, of the contribution of women scientists. Many pointed out that women have not received the recognition, for example through the award of Nobel Prizes, that their achievements in science would deserve. The collection and analysis of statistics illustrating the position of women in science, particularly at European level, is not yet developed enough to allow in-depth examination of the situation. The conference called for much greater priority to be placed on the collection of these types of figures. It is clear however, that the distinction between men and women starts in education, with boys more likely to choose scientific subjects than girls. At university, a far greater proportion of men than women study engineering and the natural sciences, though not medicine. Figures for women scientists in employment are much patchier, and tend to be nationally based rather than European. However, they show that fewer women are employed in scientific posts than men, and those that are working in the field tend to hold lower level posts. (The figures do show that women scientists are far better positioned at all levels in Southern Europe than in Northern Europe.) Furthermore, studies have shown that women may need to have far more experience or do much more work than men to receive funding or achieve promoted posts. The conference was opened by Eryl McNally and Godelieve Quistoudt-Rowohl, two senior members of the European Parliament's Research Committee. For Mrs. McNally, a Socialist, senior decision-makers and research managers need to focus more on equal opportunities in the scientific areas for which they are responsible. According to Dr. Quistoudt-Rowohl, a Christian Democrat, for so long as the EU's research programmes are based on the criterion of scientific excellence, logically gender plays no part. For her, women must demonstrate that they can meet these excellence criteria in their own right. Edith Cresson, European Commissioner responsible for science, research and innovation, education, training and youth, coincidentally the first woman to take charge of the EU's research programmes, presented a number of initiatives which the Commission proposes to encourage women's participation in the Fifth RTD Framework Programme. The new programme, due to come on-stream for the beginning of 1999, is the first to focus specifically on meeting the needs of European citizens and industry. According to Mrs. Cresson, the fact that 51% of European citizens are women means that the new programme must address their needs. For Mrs. Cresson, the question of women in research must cover not only research "by" women, but also research "for" women and research "about" women. Within the Fifth Framework Programme, the Commissioner welcomed the amendment introduced by Mrs. McNally which will require the consideration of equal opportunities throughout the Programme's implementation. This has now been accepted by the Council as well as the Parliament. To put this into effect, the Commission proposes measures to encourage women to participate in projects; to collect statistics on the participation of women in the programmes; to ensure a significant proportion of women on its advisory and consultative bodies, including the new Advisory Groups, project evaluators and the evaluation panels for each programme. Particular emphasis will be placed on areas of interest to women in the different programmes, particularly the socio-economic research fields in the "Encouraging human potential" programme. The implementation of these measures will be coordinated by a new "European Gender and Science Watch System", set up within the Commission and addressing the whole Framework Programme. A women and science network will be established throughout the EU, allowing exchanges and coordination of national initiatives. This network will associate both individuals and organizations active in the field, including many of those present at the conference. In order to ensure wider awareness, as well as political discussion of the proposed measures, Mrs. Cresson will shortly present a communication on the subject to the Commission. This will not only address the position of women in research but also the educational system which appears to discourage women from studying applied sciences and engineering. //CPA

Related articles