Nearly 600 participants from Europe and around
the world converged on Brussels on 8-9 November 2001 for the European
Commission's 'Gender and research' conference. Highlights included the
presentation of the first results of the Helsinki Group. The Growth Programme
presented a different, future-oriented approach to gender analysis at
a multimedia stand.
In June 2000 The European Commission launched a gender
impact assessment exercise aimed at determining whether, and how, gender
issues have been taken into account, and providing recommendations for
better integration of the gender dimension in future research. The exercise
comprised seven studies carried out independently and focusing on seven
thematic programmes within FP5, including 'Quality of life and management
of living resources', 'User-friendly information society', 'Energy, environment
and sustainable development - Energy sub-programme', 'Energy, environment
and sustainable development - Environment and sustainable development
sub-programme' 'Confirming the international role of Community research',
'Promotion of innovation and encouraging the participation of SMEs', and
'Improving the human research potential and the socio-economic knowledge
According to Teresa Rees, Professor at the School
of Social Sciences at Cardiff University in Wales, who explained the Helsinki
Group's findings, "There is considerable
diversity among countries in terms of the scientific infrastructure and
the climate for women pursuing scientific careers. But there are also
some common factors, such as lack of gender balance in the higher echelons
of scientific policy decision making."
The Growth Programme chose not to carry out the gender
impact assessment, as it was already all too clear what the results would
show. "We knew what we were going to find," explains Luisa
Prista , Head of the 'Materials' Unit in the Commission's Directorate
G. "The Growth Programme is concerned specifically with industrial
research and we have known for a long time that women are very under-represented
in this area. Therefore, rather than spending a lot of time on the not-so-glorious
past, which we all know about, we decided to focus on the future."
Focussing on the Growth's special character
and on the new FP, an impressive display in the exhibit hall highlighted
the Programme's determined commitment to gender issues, featuring
images and interviews with important players in the gender and research
According to Jack
Metthey , Acting Director of EC Research Directorate H, "We
wanted to highlight the specificities of the Growth Programme, which
is an industrial programme. Industry and production have been changing
over the last decades. From mass production we have turned towards
customer-oriented, and now society-oriented products. The emergence
of new production/consumption paradigms has influenced the way industry
is organised. We have followed these changes, first under Brite-Euram
and then under Growth. The next FP (2002-2006) will reflect a broader
scope and will thus offer greater opportunities for the participation
of women in research. It has now been confirmed that women tend
to be more interested in a multidisciplinary technological approach
in which social and ethic concerns are also taken into due consideration.
Now, at this conference, we are establishing a 'Women in Growth'
working group which will contribute to enlarging the discussion
and helping us in the definition of guidelines for the near future."
The main aim of this working group will be to make both the content
of the specific programme and its implementation instruments more
amenable to gender-balance.
The conference brought together key ministerial
speakers, including Research
Commissioner, Philippe Busquin ; Françoise Dupuis, the
Belgian Minister for higher education and scientific research; and
similarly placed Spanish, Luxemburgish, French, Czech, Austrian,
British, Greek, Swedish, Moroccan and South African representatives.
Also speaking was the Belgian Deputy Prime Minister, Laurette
Onkelinx . "Our first priority should be the collection
of basic, clear and reliable statistics," she told a packed
house at the opening session. "Once we've established where
we are in real terms, we can begin the work of making science and
scientific careers girl- and woman-friendly."
Unable to attend the morning session, Commissioner
Busquin made his first appearance at a press lunch where he paid
tribute to the high level of excellence represented at the conference.
Looking around the table, he said, "For today at least, the
lady researchers outnumber the men, but we need to see more women
like you at more meetings and more conferences. The new
Framework Programme is going to take us in that direction."
Indeed, the Helsinki Group's report underlined some specific features
of the new Framework Programme (2002-2006) offering additional opportunities
for women in European research.
During the two-day event, each of the individual
gender-impact assessment studies were presented and discussed in
parallel sessions. Time was also set aside for policy issues such
as benchmarking, understanding and addressing male bias, and reaching
out to schools and the community at large. Finally, Research
Director-General Achilleas Mitsos brought everyone back together
for a rousing closing session featuring yet another stellar cast.
In his summation, Mitsos announced a number of new initiatives aimed
at supporting women in science. "Those who aren't moving forwards
are moving backwards," he declared. Calling for the use of
indicators, policy analysis, research on methodology and the philosophy
of science to understand the underlying causes of gender imbalance,
he said, "There is still so very much that remains to be done,
but I think we've established that it is well worth the effort!"
more on the 'Gender and research' conference and for a selection of
views on women and science, see the article, 'Women
and science: Engendering European research culture'.
Promoting the participation of women in industrial
research is a key issue for the Growth Programme.