Increased involvement of women in research has
the potential to enrich European science in terms of its methods, the
subjects it focuses on and the objectives assigned to scientific research.
The Council Resolution of 1 June 1999 on Women and Science, states "
the question of under-representation of women in the field of scientific
and technical research is a common concern for Member States and the Community
and needs to be addressed whilst noting that the problem of under-representation
is not confined to the research sector alone."
||The position of
women in science
DG Research initiated the women
and science activity in 1997. A conference organised on the
subject of "Women and Science" in 1998, on the initiative
of Research Commissioner, Edith Cresson, proved a great success
and clearly showed the Commission's serious commitment to systematic
change in this area. A total of 450 women scientists expressed their
desire to participate and 250 were accepted. The women scientists
told of their experiences: the under-representation of women in
the scientific system was the result of a latent discriminatory
process against women scientists. On 17 February 1999, the Commission
presented a Communication on the subject "Women
and science: mobilising women to enrich European research."
This document presented the Commission action plan for the duration
of the Fifth Framework Programme (FP5).
"The under-representation of women in science
threatens the goals of science in achieving excellence, as well
as being wasteful and unjust." This was one conclusion of the
ETAN (European Technology Assessment Network) Expert Working Group
on Women and Science. Their report entitled "Science
policies in the European Union: promoting excellence through mainstreaming
gender equality" set out to identify challenges and review
policy options, in order to address the gender balance in research
policy. This report subsequently formed the basis of a conference
organised by the Commission, entitled "Women and Science: making
change happen." (Brussels, April 3-4, 2000).
||How and why has
the European Commission become involved
The Commission has undertaken to pursue two
objectives in relation to women and science:
- To stimulate discussion and the sharing of
experience in this field among the Member States, so that action
can be taken as effectively as possible at all levels;
- To develop a coherent approach towards promoting
women in research, financed by the Union, with the aim of significantly
increasing the number of women involved in research during the
period of the Fifth Framework Programme.
The Commission's aim is to achieve at least
a 40% representation for women in Marie Curie scholarships, advisory
groups and assessment/monitoring panels. On 21 February 2001, the
Commission adopted the proposal for the Sixth Framework Programme
(2002-2006). The gender dimension will be taken into account throughout
this programme, to allow progress along the three tracks: research
by, for and on women.
- By - promotion of participation of
women in research;
- For - promotion of research agenda
which meets female needs;
- On - research on the gender issue.
This fulfils one of the main criteria outlined
in the ETAN report, which highlighted the need to mainstream gender
equality into the entire Framework Programme and in particular to
assess the integration of a gender dimension into scientific research
projects at application, monitoring and evaluation stages.
||Reasons for under-representation
There is a clear need to attract more young
people, and in particular females, into science. This means introducing
change at various levels such as career guidance, mentoring schemes,
networks, proper structures and schemes for parents returning after
career breaks and encouragement to women to apply for fellowships
The representation of women in higher education,
research institutes, in industry and among members of senior scientific
committees is consistently very small. Research carried out by the
National Centre for Social Research in the UK shows that female
researchers are commonly under-represented in the secure senior
positions from which more applications are made.
Nathalie Sauvonnet is the recipient of a Marie
Curie Scholarship. "There are still not enough women at the
head of laboratories, and often directors believe that it is not
good to have women researchers as they will want to have children
and so will be less available to work," she says. "There
is a lot of competition between postdocs who are trying to find
a more permanent position, mainly due to the lack of positions available
The need to collect sex-desegregated statistics
and build gender sensitive indicators at EU and Member State level
was recognized in the Commission's Communication, in the Council's
Resolution and in the European Parliament's Resolution on women
and science. This will be addressed by 'top-down' and 'bottom-up'
approaches. The former is based upon a strong co-operation between
all institutions involved in the production of statistics at European
and international levels, i.e. Council of Europe, UNESCO, Eurostat
and OECD. This co-operation should help avoiding overlapping and
duplicating activities. The latter involves exploiting existing
data at national level to develop the needed gender indicators.
In 1999, women had less than 20% representation
on the programme committee and expert advisory group for the Growth
Programme and across any of the Growth key actions. They registered
approximately 15% participation in evaluation panels and were not
represented at all on Growth monitoring panels (Figures
from Women and Science website).
A study carried out by Louise Ackers (Professor
at the Department of Law, University of Lancaster) on "Women
in TMR Marie Curie Fellowships (1995-1998)", showed that
women comprised about one third of applicants. Applications for
the most popular panel (life sciences) included a relatively high
proportion of women. The question of confidence, the importance
of role models and mentors, and the relationship between these factors
and the likelihood of making an application was raised in several
instances over the course of the research.
The importance of an effective information policy cannot be underestimated
in ensuring that women are informed about the schemes and programmes
designed to increase their participation in scientific research.
This improved participation will only be possible if there are more
Recent developments and reorganisation within
the European Commission have seen the establishment of a new 'Women
and Science' unit within the 'Science and Society' Directorate of
The Commission is currently encouraging public
debate on "Science,
Society and the Citizen" via an online forum on the Cordis
website. This initiative will allow the collection of views from
various stakeholders which will then be used to draft an action
plan by the end of 2001, on key issues affecting science and society.
A Commission Staff Working Paper entitled "Women
and Science: the gender dimension as a leverage for reforming science",
was issued on 15 May 2001. It focuses on progress under the action
plan proposed in 1999, on the work of the Helsinki group (policy
review and indicators), and on the implementation of the Gender
Watch System under FP5 (women's participation and gender impact
studies). This Working Paper was also discussed at the Research
Council meeting on 26 June under the Swedish Presidency.
Later in the year, a conference entitled "Gender
and Research" will be organized in Brussels 8-9 November 2001.
This will allow discussion of the action plan for the period 2002-2006
on the basis of the results of the previous action plan.
· Expert group on "women and science"
· Women and Science unit created in DG Research, January
· Commission presented a Communication on "Women and
science: mobilising women to enrich European research", February
· "Helsinki group" - first meeting of the "Women
and Science" national civil servants group 29-30 November
· ETAN (European Technology Assessment Network) report
"Science policies in the European Union: promoting excellence
through mainstreaming gender equality", officially presented
23 November 1999.