Launched on International Day for Girls and Women in Science, Will SWATI Break Old Habits?


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Launched on International Day for Girls and Women in Science, Will SWATI Break Old Habits? Blog Image

Why in News?

  • The issue of gender disparity in the field of science has been a long-standing concern, and various initiatives have been implemented over the years to address this imbalance.
  • Therefore, it is important to explore the evolution of efforts to bridge the gender gap in Indian science, culminating in the recent announcement of SWATI (Science For Women-A Technology & Innovation), a portal aimed at creating a comprehensive database of women in science in the country.

The 2004 INSA Report: Unmasking Systemic Discrimination in Indian Science

  • Acknowledgement of the Disparity
    • In 2004, the Indian National Science Academy (INSA) released a seminal report that would become a cornerstone in the ongoing discourse surrounding gender disparities in Indian science.
    • This comprehensive document marked a significant departure from mainstream discussions at the time by not only shedding light on the gender gap but also addressing the intersectionality of discrimination, including issues related to caste.
    • One of the distinguishing features of the report was its governmental support, making it one of the first instances where the Indian government officially acknowledged the need to investigate and rectify gender imbalances in the scientific community.
  • A Nuanced Understanding of the Gender Disparity Issue
    • The report ventured beyond conventional narratives and brought to the forefront evidence of workplace discrimination based not only on gender but also on caste.
    • This multifaceted approach provided a nuanced understanding of the challenges faced by women in science, challenging prevailing stereotypes that attributed the gender gap solely to marriage and motherhood.
    • A noteworthy aspect of the report was its collaboration between scientists and social scientists.
    • This interdisciplinary collaboration added depth to the analysis, recognising the societal underpinnings of gender disparities within the scientific community.
    • This approach was groundbreaking because, traditionally, the scientific community in India had been somewhat insular, with limited engagement with social scientists on issues of gender equality.
  • Solutions and Recommendations to Address the Disparity Issue
    • The report suggested a proactive stance, acknowledging that addressing gender disparities required a concerted effort from all stakeholders, including policymakers, academia, and the scientific community itself.
    • The INSA report laid the foundation for subsequent initiatives by providing a comprehensive understanding of the challenges faced by women in science, moving beyond surface-level analyses.
    • The recommendations made in this report influenced the trajectory of gender-related efforts in the scientific community in India, sparking a series of subsequent initiatives aimed at fostering a more inclusive and equitable environment.

Subsequent Initiatives and Setbacks: Navigating the Complex Landscape

  • Publication of Lilavati’s Daughters
    • One notable initiative that followed the INSA report was the Indian Academy of Sciences' (IASc) publication of "Lilavati's Daughters" in 2008.
    • This compendium aimed to showcase the contributions of women in science, providing visibility to their achievements and challenging stereotypes.
  • A National Conference of Women Scientists
    • Simultaneously, a national conference, featuring over a thousand women scientists, was organised (2008)the Department of Science and Technology (DST) task force established in response to the INSA report.
    • The conference, a platform for dialogue and collaboration, presented an opportunity for the then Science and Technology Minister to make groundbreaking announcements.
    • The minister promised women scientists a range of support measures, including flexible working hours, in-house creches, work-from-home options, research grants, and residential accommodation.
    • However, the implementation of these promises faced hurdles, as the standing committee established to execute minister's commitments failed to materialize, leaving many of the pledged advancements unrealised.
  • Another Report by IASc (2010) on Why Women Leave Science
    • The survey, which included responses from about 800 scientists, both men and women, uncovered a complex set of reasons.
    • While men predominantly attributed women leaving science to family and sociocultural factors, women highlighted not only these aspects but also the lack of opportunities and disabling organisational factors.
    • The disabling organisational factors includeslack of flexible timings, logistics, infrastructure, and rampant discrimination.
    • This highlighted the need for a more comprehensive approach that addresses systemic issues rather than placing the blame solely on individual choices.
  • The Gap Between Announcements and Implementation
    • This was seen in the case of the commitments made by Minister, highlighted the challenges in translating good intentions into concrete actions.
    • The standing committee's failure to take off exemplified bureaucratic hurdles that hindered the realisation of proposed advancements for women in science.

Newer Initiatives to Address the Gender Disparity in Indian Science

  • Gender Advancement for Transforming Institutions (GATI)
    • One such initiative is the GATI charter, which represents a departure from traditional approaches.
    • Released in alignment with the changing discourse around gender issues, the GATI charter employs more progressive language and considerations.
    • It recognises the existence of transgender identities and advocates for gender-neutral parental leave, acknowledging the diversity within the scientific community beyond the binary gender framework.
  • Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy (STIP) 2020
    • In a parallel development, the draft STIP 2020 presented another step forward.
    • This policy draft incorporated language and provisions that signalled a departure from the conventional, male-centric approach to science policy.
    • By addressing transgender identities and advocating for gender-neutral parental leave, the STIP 2020 aimed to create a more inclusive and supportive environment for scientists of all genders.
  • SWATI: Science for Women: A Technology & Innovation
    • SWATI was initially announced on International Women's Day in 2021 by the then Department of Biotechnology (DBT) chief (Renu Swarup).
    • It was described as a "portal dedicated to all Women Scientists in DBT and its Autonomous Institutions."
    • Despite the promising announcement, subsequent information about SWATI remained conspicuously absent until recently.

SWATI: A New Horizon or a Repeated Pattern?

  • The name SWATI itself is a commitment to integrating women into the spheres of science and technology, acknowledging their potential as significant contributors in these fields.
  • However, the scepticism is rooted in the history of initiatives that garnered initial enthusiasm but failed to sustain momentum.
  • On a positive note, there are several aspects of SWATI that inspire hope. The portal's form is inclusive of all non-male genders, recognising the importance of acknowledging and supporting scientists with diverse gender identities.
  • Unlike some earlier initiatives, SWATI does not appear to impose strict criteria such as requiring Ph.D. qualifications, acknowledging that women work in science in various capacities, with or without specific degrees.


  • While the launch of SWATI holds promise for advancing gender equity in Indian science, it is essential to approach it with cautious optimism.
  • The success of SWATI hinges on its ability to evolve from a well-announced concept to a robust and transparent platform that effectively addresses the diverse challenges faced by women in the scientific community.

Q1) Why is the representation of women in science important?

The representation of women in science is crucial for diversity of thought and innovation. When women contribute their unique perspectives and ideas, it leads to a more comprehensive understanding of scientific challenges. Additionally, diverse teams in science foster creativity, enhance problem-solving abilities, and promote inclusivity, ultimately driving advancements in various fields.

Q2) What barriers do women often face in pursuing careers in science?

Women in science commonly encounter barriers such as gender bias, stereotyping, and a lack of representation in leadership roles. Additionally, challenges like limited access to resources, unequal opportunities for mentorship, and work-life balance issues can hinder women's progress in scientific careers. Addressing these barriers is essential to creating a more inclusive and equitable environment for women in the field of science.

Source: The Indian Express