THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 13 February 2020 (How wide is the gender gap in science? (Indian Express))

How wide is the gender gap in science? (Indian Express)

Mains Paper 3: Science and Tech
Prelims level: Gender gap in science
Mains level: Causes of the Gender gap in science


  • February 11 was the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, established by the United Nations to promote equal access to and participation in science for women and girls.

Researchers and achievers:

  • According to a 2018 fact sheet prepared by UNESCO on women in science, just 28.8% of researchers are women. It defines researchers as “professionals engaged in the conception or creation of new knowledge”. In India, this drops to 13.9%.
  • Between 1901 and 2019, 334 Nobel Prizes have been awarded to 616 Laureates in Physics, Chemistry and Medicine, of which just 20 have been won by 19 women.
  • The double Laureate is Marie Curie, one of just three women who have won in Physics and one of just five in Chemistry, while 12 women have won the Medicine Nobel.
  • In 2019, the American mathematician Karen Uhlenbeck became the first woman to win the Abel Prize, following 16 male mathematicians. The Fields Medal so far has also been awarded to only one woman mathematician, the late Maryam Mirzakhani of Iran, as opposed to 59 men since 1936.

Women in science courses:

  • UNESCO data from 2014-16 show that only around 30% of female students select STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics)-related fields in higher education. Female enrolment is particularly low in information technology (3%), natural science, mathematics and statistics (5%) and engineering and allied streams (8%).
  • In India, a 2016-17 NITI Aayog report compared female enrolment in various disciplines over five years, until 2015-16.
  • In 2015-16, 9.3% of female students in undergraduate courses were enrolled in engineering, compared to 15.6% across genders.
  • Conversely, 4.3% of female students were enrolled in medical science, compared to 3.3% across genders.
  • Then, at master’s and doctoral levels, female enrolment remained lower than overall enrolment, and also fell behind for medical science in three of the five years.
  • The report found that in over 620 institutes and universities, including IITs, NITs, ISRO, and DRDO, the presence of women was 20.0% among Scientific and Administrative Staff, 28.7% among Post-Doctoral Fellows, and 33.5% among PhD scholars.

Why the gender gap?

  • Various studies have found that girls excel at mathematics and science-oriented subjects in school, but boys often believe they can do better, which shapes their choices in higher studies.
  • In 2015, an analysis of PISA scores by OECD found that the difference in maths scores between high-achieving boys and girls was the equivalent of about half a year at school.
  • But when comparing boys and girls who reported similar levels of self-confidence and anxiety about mathematics, the gender gap in performance disappeared — when girls were more anxious, they tended to perform poorly.

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Prelims Questions:

Q.1) With reference to the reservation in promotion in public posts, consider the following statements:
1. The Supreme Court recently observed that State governments are not bound to provide reservation for appointment in public posts
2. The court said Articles 16 (4) and 16 (4-A) of the Constitution did not confer individuals with a fundamental right to claim reservation in promotion.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?
(a) 1 only
(b) 2 only
(c) Both
(d) None

Answer: C
Mains Questions:
Q.1) What do you mean by the gender gap in science? What are the causes behind the gender gap? What are the key measures needed to reduce the gender gap?