7 PM | The role of women in developing a knowledge economy | 16th March 2020

ForumIAS announcing GS Foundation Program for UPSC CSE 2025-26 from 18th June. Click Here for more information.

Context: Knowledge economy and the role of women in India’s growth.

According to a recent study, women make up only 14% of the 280,000 scientists, engineers, and technologists in research and development institutions across the country. However, a rapidly growing India requires a highly skilled technical workforce that is crucial for developing a knowledge economy.

This brings us to the questions of knowledge economy and the untapped potential of women in science field in India. In this article, we will explain the below:

  • What is Knowledge economy?
  • What is the status of Women in Science in India?
  • What is the need of creating an enabling environment to pursue women to take career in science?
  • What are the reasons of women falling out of science career?
  • What are the steps taken by the government?
  • Way Forward

What is Knowledge economy?

  • The term ‘knowledge economy’ was coined in the 1960s to describe a shift from traditional economies to ones where the production and use of knowledge are paramount.
  • Academic institutions and companies engaging in research and development are important foundations of such a system. And so are those who apply this knowledge that is the programmers developing new software and search engines to utilise data and the health workers who use data to improve treatments.
  • Once knowledge has been picked up by these central brokers, employers and workers in more traditional fields may begin using information to improve their work environment, for example the supply chain efficiency of a small company or the harvesting of crops on a farm.
  • According to the World Bank, knowledge economies are defined by four pillars. These are:
    • institutional structures that provide incentives for entrepreneurship and the use of knowledge,
    • skilled labour availability and good education systems,
    • ICT infrastructure and access, and
    • a vibrant innovation landscape that includes academia, the private sector and civil society.

What is the status of Women in Science in India?

  • According to a 2018 fact sheet prepared by UNESCO on women in science, just 28.8% of researchers are women. It defines researchers as “professionals engaged in the conception or creation of new knowledge”. In India, this drops to 13.9%.
  • As per All India Higher Education Survey (AIHES) 2017-18, only six per cent women in Engineering and Technology courses are opting for Ph.D. after their post-graduation. In Science stream the number is as low as three per cent.
  • Women constitute only 20% of ISRO’s 16,000-strong workforce.
  • In India, a 2016-17 NITI Aayog report compared female enrolment in various disciplines over five years, until 2015-16. In 2015-16, 9.3% of female students in undergraduate courses were enrolled in engineering, compared to 15.6% across genders.
  • The NITI Aayog report found that in over 620 institutes and universities, including IITs, NITs, ISRO, and DRDO, the presence of women was 20.0% among Scientific and Administrative Staff, 28.7% among Post-Doctoral Fellows, and 33.5% among PhD scholars.
  • As per the report of National Task Force for Women in Science, only 15 per cent of the Indian research and development workforce are women, while the global average is 30 per cent. The imbalance is biggest in fields such as computer science and physics, and smallest in life sciences and medicine.

What is the need of creating an enabling environment to pursue women to take career in science?

Empowering women in science and technology and their full and equal participation is one of the core objectives mentioned in the Science and Technology Policy of the Govt. of India, 2003. Accordingly, there are a number of schemes, mostly in the form of scholarships, introduced by government. However, evidence suggests that   Government has not been very pro-active in addressing this issue. Many of the suggestions and recommendations made by scientists at various panels and task forces remain unimplemented.

What are the reasons of women falling out of science career?

Family support plays an important role in any woman’s career and its growth. Achieving heights in a career generally begins with a successful personal life and good family support. Women fall out of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) areas because of variety of reasons, some known to society while others remain hidden but play an important role from beneath.

  • Education is a family decision: Educational decisions in our country are generally family decisions and not individual choices, as education involves investment of collective family resources with collective impacts. Decisions are primarily based on projected impact on the collective family welfare. Family and social consequences become more significant in case of a girl child rather than her interest and will.
  • Economic factors: These play a major role in academic decisions and are major constraints for women in pursuing science. Even for families with greater resources, economic considerations affect the pursuit of science degree as a science or engineering degree is generally a more expensive option than an arts or a commerce degree.
  • Gender stereotypes and gender roles: Gendered family responsibilities and emphasis on homely traits for daughters makes the situation less favourable to study science. Widespread Indian cultural model of a family is patriarchal in which gender roles are differentiated and all household responsibilities lie with female members of a family.
  • Conformity to social expectations: Families expect daughters to marry and assume obligations to their husband’s family. Many families think that a daughter’s education would primarily benefit her in-laws rather than her natal family.
  • Male-dominated environment: Women in STEM are highly visible minorities. Male-dominated social context of science and engineering is a major constraint on women’s participation. Girls feel uncomfortable in a male-dominated environment while pursuing science but more and more women are catching up now.
  • Lack of role models: It is much easier for girls to pursue science and imagine a career there when they see more successful women examples. Lack of role models continues to hinder career choices of girls away from STEM subjects.
  • Women tend to lack access to informal networks that provide opportunities to work in high-profile projects, which include attending conferences abroad or on-the-job opportunities. Therefore, they lack the work experience that would enable them to rise up the ranks and provide access to the wide range of developmental models that could build the credibility they need to advance.
  • Success defined by “live to work” ideals: Organizations often define success by the willingness of their employee to work for long hours and prioritize work over everything else—a “live to work” ideal, generally regarded as more masculine. When women feel selected or assessed on the basis of group membership rather than their work record and abilities, they experience gender discrimination. Women feel that an unempathetic culture is one of the most significant barriers to their advancement.

What are the steps taken by the government?

Government of India initiatives for promoting women in science Government of India has been striving to empower women through various initiatives and programmes. Department of Science and Technology (DST), India, has been actively engaged in creating an ecosystem and enabling an environment for women in S&T domain.

  • KIRAN: In 2014, DST restructured all women specific programmes under one umbrella called Knowledge Involvement in Research Advancement through Nurturing (KIRAN). The mandate of KIRAN programme is to bring gender parity in S&T through gender mainstreaming. Different components of KIRAN deal with various crucial women-centric issues such as break in career, self-employment, part-time career, relocation, etc. faced by women in their career path. KIRAN has the following components.
  • Women technology parks: Women technology parks (WTPs) act as a single window hub for convergence of diversified technologies, leading to socio-economic development of women through capacity building and adoption of location-specific technologies.

  • “WomenInTech forum”:
    • Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), India has kicked start a collaborative industry initiative to address the sharp lack of women in STEM careers via a brand new forum called ‘WomenInTech’.
    • The forum aims to address the gap at the grassroots level through a multi-pronged approach.
    • The forum has been conceived in association with a number of technology corporates, academia, and NGOs
    • The forum has been designed to help accelerate the national agenda of Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao and further to work in alignment with the UN’s focus area this year – ‘Turning promises into action’

Way forward:

Despite many hindrances, women in India have made great strides over the years. It takes more than a policy to bring and retain more and more women in science. A strong commitment to gender mainstreaming is required. To achieve this we need to do the following:

  • Spread awareness: Awareness that pursuing science for girls is not as difficult as it is presumed, needs to be spread among parents. With family support and encouragement, girls can be high achievers in science.
  • Mentoring: Along with family support, having teachers who mentor and encourage girls in STEM subjects can have more impact. Mentorship programmes for girls at secondary and senior secondary levels are the need of the hour.
  • Make education gender sensitive: There is a need to promote positive stereotypes of roles of women in textbooks. It is important that when girls come out of school, they have the dream to carve a path for themselves. Education for boys at school level should be in the direction of making them gender sensitive.
  • STEM scholarships to meritorious girls: Scholarships to meritorious girls at school levels can provide a boost to girls to pursue science at graduate and postgraduate levels and take up science as a career.
  • Media efforts to increase visibility of women in science: Many women feel isolated and dejected as they progress through the STEM pipeline. They lose self-confidence due to lack of support from peers, teachers and advisors. Motherhood also places risk on securing STEM career options. Our media can play a big role in bringing more girls into science by increasing visibility of great women scientists and achievers to create and enhance interest of young girls in STEM areas.


A Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) workforce is crucial to India’s economic development and social welfare, but women are underrepresented in STEM careers. Although women constitute 40 percent of science undergraduates in India, only a fraction move into successful academic careers and even fewer reach top positions in research and administration. This results in a loss of talented workforce.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals target quality education for all and gender equality as critical to building a prosperous and sustainable society. Equal opportunities in learning Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) are important for job opportunities and also for tackling growing economic, social, and environmental challenges. Although India has made strides in the education of girls, participation and performance of women in STEM are still a challenge.

Source: https://www.livemint.com/opinion/online-views/the-role-of-women-in-developing-a-knowledge-economy-11583424552670.html

Print Friendly and PDF