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400 women … and men met on 28 and 29 April 1998 in Brussels for a conference entitled « Women and Science », organised by the European Commission and the European Parliament. Unanimous conclusions included: the slow evolution of the number of women in scientific careers, the lack of statistics, and the absence of a political vision in Europe.
Edith Cresson, Member of the European Commission responsible for research , innovation, education, training and youth outlined plans to increase the proportion of women participating in the fifth RDT Framework programme. She also proposed to create an Observatory and to launch a « Women and Science » network at European level.
«To deprive ourselves from the intellectual potential represented by half of the population is simply appalling » summarising the chronic deficit of the participation of women in Europe, Edith Cresson said.
A few figures :
- in 1996, 6% of European students in engineering were women
- women represent barely 5% of science full professors in the United Kingdom, Ireland and the Netherlands
- of the women obtaining a scientific degree, only 19% pursue a scientific career.
Promoting equal opportunities between men and women represents today a political priority of the European Union. What can be done at the scientific level?
Women and Science : towards the Fifth Framework Programme
The Fifth RTD Framework programme is new in its structure, its content and its approach. It integrates a number of socio-economic issues around a limited number of priorities more resolutely directed towards the concerns of European citizens.
Promoting equal opportunities at European level can be accomplished by :
- facilitating information and participation of women in research projects
- proposing mixed teams, particularly within evaluation panels
- developing a network which will associate a large number of individuals and organisations active in the EU member States
- focusing on research fields that interest women more directly
- creating a « Women and Science » observatory at European level.
The Observatory will be a transverse action for all Community research programmes.
- establish statistics on the position of women and science
- evaluate on a permanent basis the presence of women in European research projects
- sensitise politicians and members of the scientific community, within the Commission and the Member States, to the equal opportunity issue.
Women and Science : European action
The 400 participants in the conference proved that dialogue and action at European scale provide richer and more efficient experiences.
John Battle, MP, British Minister of State for Science, Research and Industry explained the results of the unit created within his Ministry with the aim of attracting more women in scientific and technological careers.
Jytte Hilden, Former Danish Minister for Research and Information technology recognised that « It was sufficient to present appalling statistics to make things move ». Many scientists agreed with Hilary Rose, from the University of Bradford in arguing " no statistics, no problem, no policy ».
Encouraging actions with figures is the task of Mary Osborn from the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, Germany. In Brussels, she recalled that the evaluation panels for EU programmes in 1995 and 1997 involved between 11 and 28% of women.
This vast exchange of experiences between scientists, researchers and academics stressed the paramount role of education. "To treat girls and boys alike does not lead to equal opportunities but tends, on the contrary, to increased differences. But diversity is a source of richness and creativity. Mixed teams are absolutely indispensable in research", concluded Huguette Delavault, Professor of Mathematics in Paris.
Deep changes in behaviour and mentalities are vital. New technologies, which are revolutionising sciences as well as society, require more researchers, whether men or women. The scientific challenges of the 21st Century enhance more than ever the role of women, be they actors, subjects of beneficiaries of research.
For more information, please contact:
Information Unit, DG XII