Sexism in Science
Posted on September 16th, 2010

by Dr Ruwan M Jayatunge

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ In the article written by Carol Goar (Toronto Star May 26, 2010- ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”No female scientists? No surpriseƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢), she points out that females were not promoted as leading scientists. An invisible force prevented women from reaching top levels. The Industry Minister Tony Clement too expressed his concern following no female nominations having been made for the Canada Excellence Research Chairs. Is there unseen sexism among the professional communities?

According to article 27-sub section 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, everyone has the right to freely participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits. Based on the UDHR, gender cannot be considered a decisive factor.

In 2009, the equity analyst of the Canadian Research Chairs Secretariat David Marchand told the Canadian Association of University Teachers that the programme had no gender equity target. Although attempts were not made to exclude women deliberately, the recruiters say they that they did not look for female candidates because the government made no request. The conservatives launched the Canada Excellence Research Chairs programme in 2008 and the programme was criticised by various academics. Even though women make up 35 percent of university professors and 59 percent of degree recipients, only 20 percent of research chairs were awarded to women. Many felt this was an unjust decision.

The original Canada Excellence Research Chairs programme was challenged by a group of female professors because it did not have sufficient female representation. The two sides reached a settlement requiring the government to take adequate measures. Both parties agreed to set up guidelines, which included adequate participation of women, visible minorities and other underrepresented groups.

Despite these assurances, the list had only males. The programme had no incentive to hire women. It was a violation of the settlement agreement. The matter escalated things further until ministerial involvement occurred. Then the minister assembled an all female committee, which found no fault in the process. The committeeƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s conclusion was that women had not reached senior levels in areas, such as, health, energy and environment. Many expressed the view that this conclusion had no basis and that it was invalid.

Female academic participation in fields, such as, health, energy and environment is very well documented throughout the world. To date, 16 women have won Nobel Prizes dating back to Marie Curie in 1903. Therefore, the contributions made by female scientists for the advancement of science should be evaluated appropriately. The panelƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s suggestion underlines that female scientists are reluctant to compete for international academic posts. In spite of the panelƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s suggestion, the journalist further underscores that female academics were not invited aptly.

Carol Goar ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s article ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”No female scientists? No surpriseƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ implies possible discrimination against women. Women face many hardships in various fields and even in the academic world. Their academic credentials and achievements are not recognized and not treated on equal grounds. Women have contributed a lot for the advancement of science in Canada; unfortunately, gender disparity has caused obstacles for them to climb the academic ladder.

Carol Goar ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s revelation could be a stunning example

of sexism in science. Although it is unethical to prevent women from going into higher positions, due to gender bias, it has become a harsh reality. Such actions detach women far, far away from academia. Many female academic staffers continue

to encounter discrimination, may be due to traditional belief systems. In the absence of any other information but sex, women are considered less competent than men in a wide range of areas. (Women Men and Power – Hilary M Lips )

Women have contributed a lot in the field of science. For instance, Rosalind Franklin made her contribution in physical chemistry and molecular biology, Sophie Germain in physics, Winifred Goldring in geology etc . Therefore, their skills and knowledge cannot be underestimated and women should be given an equal opportunity in the advanced sciences. Gender inequity is the outcome of unequal social relations that are found only sometimes and in some places.

Work is a basic human activity embedded in the very fabric of all human societies. It is connected in some way to all other human activities, including the reproduction and maintenance of workers (ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”Women, Work and Social RightsƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢, by Cecilia M. Benoit). The segregation of women into dead -end jobs, the lack of on the job training for women seeking higher level positions, and the preference given to men even when promotion is theoretically possible for women, combine to keep women concentrated at the bottom of the hierarchy (A Working Majority – What Women Must Do for Pay- Pat Armstrong & Hugh Armstrong- Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women 1983).

Despite the points made by the author, some argue that women have equal and fair participation in the field of science. The existence of gender disparities in the awarding of tenure, therefore, raises serious concerns about the status of female faculty in Canadian universities. Women historically have been far less likely than their male counterparts to be appointed to a tenure or tenure track position. While there have been significant gains for women in recent years, fewer than 3 out of 10 tenured positions were held by women in 2005, and women accounted for 4 out of 10 tenure track positions.(CAUT Equity Review – The Tenure Gap September 2008 No 4).

The gender inequity and under representation of women in science may be a possible fact and active measures should be implemented. The United Nations article 27-sub section 1 says that everyone has the Right to freely participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits. Therefore, if such aq problem is prevailing it can be interpreted as a violation of human rights. In order to eliminate systemic discrimination that adversely affects women in the field of advanced sciences, itƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s essential to establish a Science Review Committee that will monitor any underrepresentation of women and report and take active measures when there are irregularities. The selection committees must be informed about the existing problem and they should be encouraged to promote more female intellectuals in the advanced science fields.

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