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EDITORIAL ANALYSIS : Academia, research and the glass ceiling in India

 Source: The Hindu


  • Prelims: Government initiative for Research and higher education(GATI, KIRAN, STEM) etc
  • Mains GS Paper I & II: Social empowerment, development and management of social sectors/services related to Education and women empowerment etc


  • Gender issues, particularly gender inequality and discrimination in academia relating to higher education, perhaps came under the spotlight for the first time in India in 1933 when Kamala Sohonie approached Sir C.V. Raman to pursue research in physics under his guidance.




Gender Discrimination:

  • Gender inequality or discrimination refers to unequal treatment or perceptions of individuals wholly or partly due to their gender.
  • It arises from differences in socially constructed gender.
  • Article 15: It provides for prohibition of discrimination on grounds of sex also apart from other grounds such as religion, race, caste or place of birth.


Famous examples of Gender Discrimination in Education and Research:

  • Kamala Sohonie: In 1933 when Kamala Sohonie approached Sir C.V. Raman to pursue research in physics under his guidance. The request was turned down on the grounds that ‘she was a woman’.
  • Bibha Chowdhuri: 1937, Professor D.M. Bose, then Palit Professor of physics at Calcutta University, was reluctant to include Bibha Chowdhuri in his research group on the ground that he did not have suitable research projects to assign to women.
  • Alessandro Strumia: A theoretical physicist who regularly works at CERN, said that ‘male scientists were being discriminated against because of ideology rather than merit.


Government’s incentives:

  • Gender Advancement for Transforming Institutions (GATI): A pilot project under the Department of Science and Technology to promote gender equity in science and technology
  • Knowledge Involvement in Research Advancement through Nurturing (KIRAN): A plan under the Department of Science and Technology again to encourage women scientists in science and technology.
  • Creches: Some institutions are setting up creches so that the scientist mothers can carry on with their research work uninterrupted.
  • Vigyan Jyoti Scheme: It is launched by the Department of Science & Technology (DST).
    • It is intended to create a level-playing field for the meritorious girls in high school to pursue STEM in their higher education.


Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics(STEM):

  • STEM was introduced in 2001 by scientific administrators in the S. National Science Foundation (NSF).
  • It is a curriculum based on the idea of educating students in 4 specific disciplines — science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
  • India is one of the countries that produce the highest number of scientists and engineers, the growth of STEM has picked up significantly over the last few years.


Women and STEM:

  • Highest in world: In India, about 43% of women constitute the graduate population in STEM, which is one of the highest in the world,
  • UNESCO data: India is at the lowest position, having only 14% female researchers working in STEM areas.
    • The highest number of female researchers are in Tunisia, Africa (55%) followed by Argentina (53%) and New Zealand (52%).
  • Graduate studies: Male and female participation in graduate studies is comparable, the participation of women in research has dropped significantly (27% female as compared to 73% male).
    • Thus, the visibility of female faculty in universities and research institutes is significantly lower.
  • Recognition of merit is sluggish for women: when it comes to the total number of women fellows in the three science academies of India:
    • 7% for the Indian Academy of Sciences (IAS)
    • 5% for the Indian National Science Academy (INSA)
    • 8% for the National Academy of Sciences India (NASI)
  • STEM institutions: At most STEM institutes, women occupy 20% of all professorial positions. The more prestigious the institute, the lower the number of women employees.
    • For example, in IIT Madras only 31 out of 314 professors (10.2%) are Women.
  • University Grants Commission (UGC) survey:
    • 13% of the central universities, 11% of the State universities, 8% of the deemed universities and 6% of private universities have female vice-chancellors.
    • Out of the six Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) established in the 20th century, only IIT Kharagpur and IIT Delhi have women members on their governing body.


Reason for low participation of Women:

Status In the corporate world:

  • Remarkable role in cooperates: Participation of women in leadership and decision-making positions in the corporate sector is startling when compared to the reality in academics.
  • Higher than global average: The number of women in senior management positions in the corporate sector in India is 39%, which is higher than the global average.
  • Increase in women CEOs: Number of women CEOs in Fortune 500 companies is 15% while female board members in the management of private enterprises have been growing(19.7% in 2022).


Reasons for achievements of women in cooperates:

  • Merit based: The mechanism of selection and promoting personnel in the private sector is mostly based on competence or merit because it is more result (market) oriented with a definite matrix than what it is in the academic institutes.
  • Women friendly schemes: Various schemes such as flexi-hour work time, rejoining the workforce after an interim break, sections operated only by women, etc. were introduced in private enterprises as early as the 1990s with the benefits being reaped now.
  • Previous initiatives reflecting: Encouraging the participation of women in the workforce in the private sector with the adoption of various schemes for women began long ago when compared to the initiatives taken by the Government of India in recent years.


Way Forward

  • Gender parity by 2047: By proper implementation, the programmes that have been initiated by the Government to empower women in the workforce will usher in gender parity by 2047, which would mark the centenary of India’s Independence.
  • Change in mindset: Most importantly, gender equality or parity will happen only when there is a change in mindset and institutions consider women as assets rather than simply a diversity rectification issue.
  • Strive Towards Universalisation of Education: There is a need for the creation of ‘inclusion funds’ to help socially and educationally disadvantaged women to take up higher education and research.



  1. What are the continued challenges for women in India against time and space?(UPSC 2019)

(200 WORDS, 10 MARKS)

  1. Discuss the positive and negative effects of globalization on women in India.(UPSC 2015)

(200 WORDS, 10 MARKS)