Mainstreaming Gender Equality: A Quantum Leap

This new report from the Wellcome Trust and all six Research Councils manages--at last!--to locate deeper roots of the problems for women in science. Its importance lies in its call for mainstreaming of gender equality into our institutions and practices, from the ground up. Mainstreaming, 'integrating gender equality into all systems, structures, policies, programmes and practices', echoes the Agenda for Action of the 4th UN World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995. Mainstreaming gender equality was accepted by the European Commission in 1996, and adopted by the Council of Ministers, the European Parliament, and in the Treaty of Amsterdam, as the main strategic approach toward equality of opportunities. Here, as in Brussels, the call for gender mainstreaming in science is a quantum leap.

The report's findings are sadly familiar. 'What is new?', is the resounding note on which the report concludes, that root and branch remedies are needed for these deep-seated problems. The final section 'Tinkering, tailoring, or transforming?', suggests that only the most radical of these approaches will have an effect. As Teresa Rees, Rapporteur for the European Commission's ETAN Report, explains,

  • 'Tinkering' refers to measures from the 1970s to ensure that women and men received equal treatment. Equal legal protection is essential for human rights, but equal treatment does not lead to equal outcome, because of women's and men's different positions in society.

  • 'Tailoring' refers to positive action measures from the 1980s to help women in education, training, and employment: women-only training, networking, family friendly measures such as flexible working, and the provision of child care. These measures offer limited help to women, fitting them into systems and structures, designed for men, which disadvantage women.

  • 'Transforming' means mainstreaming equal opportunities into all agendas and procedures. We are some way from this!

The survey concludes that the grant and fellowship allocation process is fair. But deep-rooted factors, affecting gender differences in grant applications, require a review of funding policies and strategies, and of higher education institutions' employment practices, to ensure a more equitable distribution of research funding. Mainstreaming also means building up women's networks! Men have been at this rather longer. Consider, for example, that distinguished (and influential) body, the Royal Society, founded in 1660; 96.3% of its Fellows in 2001 are men. Only root and branch measures can redress the balance of the sexes in science. This is a tall order, but recognition is a first step.

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