Technology driven by women: An Indian Scenario
Union Finance Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman in her Budget Speech 2022-23 said, “Nari Shakti is the harbinger of India's bright future.”
India's history is filled with examples of women scientist' who have held top positions in institutions, many of whom have also won Nobel Prizes; led NASA; innovated, and led cutting-edge technologies. One such example is that of Dr Tessy Thomas, also known as "The Missile Woman of India", who is a prominent scientist of the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO). Breaking barriers in the field, Dr Tessy designed the navigation scheme for the long-range missile systems, which are used in all Agni missiles. She received the Agni Self reliance Award for Self-Help and has received several scholarships and honorary doctorates over the years.
Other notable female leaders include Ritu Karidhar—the Rocket woman of India—who was the Director of the Chandrayaan-2 mission and was feted for her role in heading one of India’s most ambitious lunar projects. Mangala Mani—the Polar women of ISRO—was ISRO’s first woman scientist to have spend more than a year in Antarctica. Chandrima Shaha—first female President of Indian National Academy of Sciences (INSA)—who has received numerous awards like the Shakuntala Amirchand Award of ICMR (1992), and the Special Award for 50th Anniversary of DNA Double Helix Discovery (2003) for “significant contributions towards the understanding of Cell Death Processes in different Model Organisms”.
India thus, clearly has a rich pool of talented women who have and continue to enormously contribute towards the growth of science and technology. From space to vaccines, Indian women are breaking stereotypes in the scientific community, paving the path for others to follow. In 2022, Energy researcher Nallathamby Kalaiselvi in fact, became the first woman director of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, breaking the proverbial glass ceiling on the 80-year-old research council. Today, of the 5 million professionals in the IT sector in India, about 36% are women.
Women's participation in research and development sectors has therefore, been increasing year by year and the number of female science leaders has also been growing, expanding by 4 per cent from 2018 to 2019. Besides, the face of women’s involvement in the field of STEM has also been slowly changing with more and more female students engaging in science, technology, engineering and mathematics sectors. For instance, during the Atal Innovation Mission's flagship innovation challenge – ATL Marathon 2021—women’s participation stood at almost 49%.
And one of the reasons, which has helped in bringing about this change is the provision of the growing government funding and implementation of programs that have significantly encouraged women’s participation in these fields. Indian government’s policy intervention, especially in the field of academia has made it possible for many women scientists to advance.
For instance, the Department of Science and Technology (DST) launched "GATI" Gender Advancement for Transforming Institutions in the year 2020, which seeks to promote gender equality in STEM. The objective of the programme is to make institutions of higher education and research more diverse, inclusive and create an enabling environment for equal participation of women in STEMM disciplines at all levels.
In addition, schemes like ‘Women Scientists Scheme-A (WOS-A)’ have further provided a platform to women scientists and technologists for pursuing research in basic or applied sciences in frontier areas of science and engineering. This scheme has in fact, been instrumental for training as well as the retention of women within the system. The scheme offers an opportunity to open new avenues for permanent position in Science & Technology for bench-level scientists.
Similarly, in 2014, DST restructured all programs specifically for women under a name called "KIRAN" (Knowledge Involvement in Research Advancement through Nurturing) in order to addresses various issues related to female scientists including unemployment, resettlement, etc. The scheme also provides opportunities to women in research technology development/demonstration, self-employment, etc. Besides this, KIRAN has been actively involved in taking proactive measures under the name CURIE (Consolidation of University Research for Innovation and Excellence in Women's Universities) launched in 2009 to develop modern infrastructure in women's colleges to attract, train and retain promising female students of science and technology.
Women's contributions to the field of science in fact, begin at the university level where they enroll in these courses or programs and then invest this knowledge in the field. To compensate for the social barriers that prevent girls from participating in IITs, including limited opportunities to attend training courses, less flexibility in choosing branches and locations, etc., government of India introduced supernumerary seats for women at IITs in 2018. As per the Union Minister of State for Education, ever since then, IITs have reported a 20 per cent increase in female student enrollment for the year 2021-22, which is up from 8 per cent in 2016. The enrollment rate of girls in NITs, on the other hand has increased to nearly 22.1 per cent in 2021-22.
In 2022, training in Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) was provided to 99 women scientists and research infrastructure support under the CURIE programme was extended to 25 women post graduate colleges. Additionally, the ‘SERB-POWER mobility grant’ provided an opportunity to women scientists to visit leading institutions/universities across the globe for a period of one to three months.
The Indian government has made various significant efforts to support women empowerment by enacting programmes and laws that raise the status of women in society. Additionally, to encourage women, enabling provisions have been incorporated in the recently enacted Labour Codes viz. ‘the Code on Wages, 2019’, ‘the Industrial Relations Code, 2020’, ‘the Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2020’ and ‘the Code on Social Security, 2020’ for creating congenial work environment for women workers.
As a result of these initiatives, there remains no doubt that women in India will continue to break barriers, passing on positive values, education, knowledge, and experiences to the next generation, thereby, contributing immensely towards the overall development of the Indian society as well as the country. This International Women’s Day let us join hands to empower more women to chase their dreams and break free from the restraints of society.