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… whoever gets to define what counts as a scientific problem also gets a powerful role in shaping the picture of the world that results from scientific research. (Harding 1991:40)


Women and science: a little bit of history

Women entered modern science at the turn of the 19th and 20th century, and their numbers have gradually grown since. Not surprisingly, women’s scientific and professional organisations formed quickly and today, we can identify three waves.

  1. Firstly and concurrently with the entry of women into universities, women started organising in national and international associations such as the International Federation of University Women (IFUW, 1918) and the Women’s Engineering Society (WES, 1919). Women also started forming specific women’s committees within disciplinary associations.
  2. Because of the political division of Europe after the Second World War, the second wave of the formation of women’s scientific and professional organisations occurred at different times in Western and Eastern Europe. Socialist countries saw two concurrent processes at the end of the 1950s. Firstly, civil society organisations and associations were disbanded (usually one umbrella association for women’s rights under the control of the Communist Party replaced existing networks); secondly, labour markets opened up to women and they entered the professions, including science, in greater numbers. Nonetheless, leadership and Academic positions remained out of most women’s reach. In Western Europe the second wave is linked to the second wave of feminism at the turn of the 1960s and 1970s. With the gradual entry of women into the sciences, organisations focusing specifically on women scientists in concrete academic fields were established, and these gradually linked and branched out into various networks and international associations. As Briscoe (1978) argues, until the 1970s women’s committees and organisations in science identified themselves primarily with the goals of their parent organisations and were not women’s organisations in the modern feminist sense of the word. At the same time feminist approaches started spreading throughout the academia, and with them the concept of gender which made it possible to rethink existing modes of thought and study of women, and which also introduced new topics into the scientific discourse (Latour, 2002). Despite this, women’s entry into the academic environment continued to be perceived as a threat to the existing order. As late as 1972 a record of a lecture by Murray Gerstenhaber presented at a panel ‘Mathematical education in 1984 – prognoses’ was published in The American Mathematical Monthly. According to Gerstenhaber mathematics teaching was to be ‘molded in part by three of the strongest forces in modern society: economics, computers, and women.’ (1972: 658). For Grestenhaber such development was apocalyptic; he warned against the feminisation of information technologies (primarily because computers would make it possible for women-mothers to work from home). According to him, feminisation of mathematics would allegedly lead to a reduction in the quality of teaching and cancellation of testing. The Association of Women in Mathematics quickly responded to these claims in the same journal (1973) but the example is illustrative of the atmosphere of the day.
  3. The third period came at the turn of the millennium, a period after the fall of the socialist block, when the topic of women in science forged its way into public research policy. With this, the issue of gender in science entered a new territory of science policy, which has resulted in new interactions of existing actors (organisations aimed at supporting women in science, academic feminists), policy-makers in bureaucracies, including femocrats, and new organisations and committees often formed in response to this political change.

gender STE - gender, science, technology and environment

NKC is part of genderSTE, a new COST initiative to advance the state of the art in knowledge and policy implementation on gender, science, technology and engineering through creating a network of policy-makers and experts on gender, science and technology. Specifically it will enhance the implementation of gender-focussed policy measures for structural change in science and technology institutions and integration of sex and gender dimensions in the content of science and technology. It aims to develop knowledge and resources regarding the sex and gender dimensions of technological development and innovation processes, with specific attention to the Grand Challenges identified in Horizon 2020 and the Joint Programming Initiative (JPI) Urban Europe.

Structural change for gender equality

Structural change in research institutions: Enhancing excellence, gender equality and efficiency in research and innovation

"Based on recent scientific findings and research practices, this report analyses the progress made so far in legislation, participation and policy, describes the problems remaining for research institutions in Europe and stresses the role that EU policy-makers, science institutions and gatekeepers of excellence must play in order to advance gender equality in research and innovation.This report proposes structural change in science institutions as the means to address each of these five sets of problems, so that decision making is more transparent, unconscious bias is removed from institutional practices, human resources management is modernized, excellence is promoted through diversity, and research and innovation are improved by the integration of a gender perspective. In addition, it signals three essential elements which should be considered as a prerequisite by all organisations undertaking structural change: knowing the institution, by developing statistics and indicators, so that the situation of each institution becomes widely known and acknowledged; getting top level support from persons in positions of responsibility; generating effective management practices, by ensuring gender expertise and by raising awareness." (Structural Change 2012: 6-7)


genSET - gender in science: Dialogue and Action for Gender Equality & Research Excellence in European Science 

genSET is an innovative project aiming to improve the excellence of European science through inclusion of the gender dimensionin in research and science knowledge making.  It is a forum for sustainable dialogue between European science leaders, science stakeholder institutions, gender experts, and science strategy decision-makers, to help implement effective overall gender strategies. The funding for genSET was initially from the European Commission, FP7 programme. The EC phase of the project ended in March 2012, and genSET continues as a programme run by Portia Ltd.


Gendered Innovations

Gendered Innovations in Science, Health & Medicine, Engineering, and Environment

“Gendered Innovations” employs methods of sex and gender analysis to create new knowledge.

"Sex and gender can influence all stages of research or development processes, from the strategic considerations of establishing priorities and building theory to the more routine tasks of formulating questions, designing methodologies and interpreting data. Many pitfalls can be avoided—and new ideas or opportunities identified—by designing sex and gender analysis into research from the start. Sex and gender analysis work alongside other methodologies in a field to provide yet further “controls” (or filters for bias) providing critical rigor in science, medicine, and engineering research, policy, and practice."