Realizing that the low representation of women in science and engineering is a major hindrance to global capacity building in science and technology, the IAC formed an Advisory Panel on Women for science with the mandate to review previous studies, provide examples of effective projects already implemented, and issue a set of actionable recommendations addressed particularly to the world’s science and engineering academies.
The recommendations and action items developed through the work of this Panel are presented in this report and are grouped around three themes:
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Engagement of women at the grassroots is essential to worldwide science and technology capacity building.
Previous IAC reports emphasized the need for global capacity building in science and technology, particularly the creation in each country of a critical mass of well-educated scientists and engineers (IAC, 2004a; 2004b). In that spirit, the preceding chapters of this report have argued for the inclusion of women among these professionals’ ranks. This would make the greatest possible use of humanity’s brainpower and—by giving women and men equal opportunities to excel—it would be the right thing to do.
In this chapter, the Advisory Panel offers a different and literally more down-to-earth perspective—unprecedented, to our knowledge, in reports of this type—that is nevertheless complementary to IAC’s visions for building a better world. Just as global S&T capacity building requires the creation of a scientific and engineering elite, it also requires the mobilization— the engagement and empowerment—of a countries’ ordinary folk, the public. We need to improve public understanding of science and technology so that citizens may be knowledgeably involved in modern S&T related policy issues. And we especially need to enable the billions of grassroots individuals around the world to apply the fruits of science and technology, such as useful products and services, for growing their countries’ economies while improving their own lives.
Such engagement cannot occur while excluding half of the human race. The vast numbers of grassroots women in the rural areas and the urban neighbourhoods around the planet are those who do a great deal—in some countries, the majority—of the daily hands-on work. Therefore these women in the developing world’s villages—rural townships and urban enclaves alike—must become engaged in the application of modern technologies. Because they are the teachers of the young, providers of basic nutrition and health care to their families, and farmers and producers of commodities, as well as half of the voting population in democracies, grassroots women are an essential element in building their countries’ S&T competencies.
In other words, energizing and empowering grassroots people, women and men alike, is the correct action to take for humanitarian and human rights reasons. But it also makes eminent economic sense. Elites have a profound influence, of course, on the generation of S&T advances, but everyone else must be capable of putting them into practice.
For example, while the Green Revolution in India was a significant factor in enhancing food-grain production—enabling India to move from dependence on imported food to self-sufficiency—the Green Revolution reached a plateau during the 1990s when intensive farming began to threaten the environment. A more enlightened follow-on approach, according to M.S. Swaminathan, the highly influential Indian plant geneticist and advocate of sustainable agriculture, would be an Evergreen Revolution— a sustainable green revolution driven by science and technology— complemented by a Gender Revolution. The latter, a reference to empowerment of the women who do so much of the farming, would ensure their productive long-term access, along with that of men, to the resulting biological and information technologies (www.mssrf.org).
Similarly, people trying to cope in the fast-growing megacities of the developing world face their own set of challenges. And urban women in particular, just like their rural counterparts, must be recognized for the important economic roles they play. They need to become partners in capacity-building efforts appropriate to their situations.
In essence, this chapter proposes ways of enabling grassroots women in the countryside and the cities to gain scientific and technological competencies that lead to enhanced economic power for themselves and their families, communities, and societies.