'No statistics, no problem, no policy. Statistics help to identify problems and make it possible to measure the effectiveness of remedies,' believes the British sociologist Hilary Rose. This is the task which the Commission entrusted to the Helsinki Group on Women and Science.(1) The results are presented in the report entitled National Policies on Women and Science in Europe, published last June, which as well as a wealth of statistics also sets out the principles of policy and good practices to promote an increased role for women in science and research.
The balance of the sexes
'There is considerable diversity from one country to another in terms of scientific infrastructures and the climate permitting women to pursue their career,' notes Teresa Rees, lecturer at Cardiff University's School of Social Sciences. 'But there are also common factors, such as the lack of a balance between the sexes in more senior positions – at the level where scientific policy is decided.'
A number of attempts are being made to correct this gender imbalance. The Commission supports a policy of 'gender mainstreaming' which involves taking the gender dimension systematically into account in all research programmes and policies. This approach is most in evidence in northern Europe. One example of this is the Equality Plan 2001-2003 implemented by the Finnish Academy which states that, given equal skills, preference should be given to either men or women depending on which of the genders is less represented. In this very egalitarian country – which has the highest standard of education in the world – 58% of university degrees and 45% of doctorates were awarded to women in 2001. But just 20% – an EU record low – of teaching staff in higher education are women.
This figure is indicative of the remaining imbalance when it comes to exercising positions of responsibility in the scientific hierarchy. In Europe's universities as a whole, 89% of those in the most senior posts are men. It is to remedy this situation that the French Research Ministry set up the Mission pour la paritÚ en sciences et en technologies, one of the principal objectives of which is to 'achieve a balance between the sexes on deliberative and consultative bodies'. The order is to go out for women to make up one-third of staff in bodies on which the public authorities are represented, compared with 10% at present.
Setting the example
European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin believes that the absence of women in positions of responsibility 'is not of an emotional nature, but the manifestation of discrimination which is the result of several factors'. These factors include lack of interest in science, the difficulty of returning to a job with the same status after a career break, a traditional confinement to certain tasks and a reluctance to accept certain posts which is more cultural than natural. This is why the Commission has decided to set the example by helping women to overcome this obstacle course.
Under the Fifth Framework Programme, the target was for 40% of the EU-funded Marie-Curie research fellowships to be awarded to women – the figure was 38.9% in 1999 and 37.3% in 2000 – and for members of groups of experts appointed by the Commission to include 40% women, irrespective of field. The progress made was very real, women sometimes exceeding 50%. The same desire to correct the imbalance was evident in the research projects submitted to the Commission in which the more active participation of women was explicitly desired. The result is that 18% of women scientists were project coordinators under the Fifth Framework Programme compared with 10% in the previous one.
This strategy is progressively enabling women to increase their presence. The Sixth Framework Programme is similarly committed to correcting the gender balance and has introduced new measures to this end. Particular attention will be paid to compiling statistics on the participation and role of women in European research and to gender studies.
The latter have developed considerably over recent years, mainly in northern Europe. In Norway, for example, a section of the Research Council of Norway is mainly concerned with analysing and planning a research policy to promote equality between the sexes, based on existing national and international experiences. The Netherlands too has taken this question very seriously since the 1980s. The Netherlands Association for Women's Studies publishes the Tijdschrift voor genderstudies, special chairs have been created and a 'gender' approach is applied systematically in fields ranging from literature to medicine.
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