Women in the Field of Science

When we talk about women’s empowerment, gaining formal education, a career or some form of a stable means of livelihood forms an important part. From not allowing girls entry into schools and colleges to witnessing women make pioneering discoveries in the fields of science, technology, medicine, and space, the world has come a long way.

However, let us also not forget the fact that only 33% of researchers globally are women (UN Women 2022). They are also provided fewer funds than men and promoted less. According to a study conducted by The Times of India in 2018, women made up only about 25% of the scientific faculty of universities and institutions. While they form a significant fraction of science teachers in both government and private schools and colleges, the number of women sitting in top positions and with successful careers in these fields is quite small. This is mostly because women more often than not face the pressure of balancing their careers with their families. There remains an inherent belief among many that maintaining the family is primarily the women’s responsibility and cannot be compromised because of their job. A portion of female students enrolled in PG courses and female Ph.D. researchers end up unable to complete their courses due to family pressure regarding marriage. More than 50% of female graduates end up choosing a teaching career, rather than working as professionals in physics, mathematics, and engineering.

Then there are also the numerous complaints of harassment and biased and discriminatory behavior reported in such institutions. The representation of women in the overall field of science is small because people generally see science as a profession for men.

Despite all this, there have been many women visionaries in India who have made significant contributions in the field of science. Here are some of the well-known females in India’s scientific field:

  • Kamala Sohonie {1912-1998} was the first female student of C.V. Raman and was the first woman to obtain a Ph.D. degree in a scientific discipline. She discovered that every cell in a plant tissue contained the ‘cytochrome c’ enzyme which was involved in the oxidation of all plant cells.
  • Anandibai Gopalrao Joshi (1865-1887) was the first Indian woman to have graduated with a degree in western medicine in the U.S and went on to become the first woman physician in India.
  • Janaki Ammal (1897-1984) was a talented botanist who worked on developing different varieties of homegrown sugarcane and eggplant. She received the Padma Shri award in 1977 and was also appointed the Director-General of the Botanical Survey of India.
  • Asima Chatterjee (1917-2006) was a chemist well-known for her contribution in the fields of organic chemistry and phytochemistry.
  • Tessy Thomas (1963-) is the Director-General of Aeronautical Systems of DRDO. She is also the first woman scientist to head a missile project in India. 
  • Major women scientists of ISRO, like Ritu Karidhal, T.K. Anuradha, Nandini Harinath, and V.R. Lalithambika among many others have received widespread praise and recognition for their work on various successful space missions like Mangalyaan, Chandrayaan, etc.

All of this goes to show us that science is not just a men’s field of play. It is as much a woman’s subject as it is a man’s and this is definitely not the last we will see of women in the field of science.