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[BEIJING] The number of female scientists in China could rise as part of a ten-year plan by the Chinese government to develop the potential of the country's women.

The 'Outline for the Development of Chinese Women 2011–2020', issued by the State Council earlier this month (8 August), aims to increase the proportion of women in the professions, including science and technology, to 35 per cent.

According to the outline, which replaces the previous ten-year plan, China will develop female technological talent primarily at the country's national laboratories, which will run research projects to train women in professional skills.

Women already play important roles in China's economic and social development, Song Xiuyan, deputy chair of the State Council's National Working Committee on Children and Women, said at a news conference following the launch of the outline.

But she added: "We need to make great efforts to enhance social gender consciousness and realise the legal equality of men and women".

Increasing the number of practising female scientists in the country will not be an easy task, according to Li Zhenzhen, a researcher at the Institute of Policy and Management at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Although women students have almost the same opportunities as men to study for a PhD in science, they find it difficult to find jobs as researchers because of discrimination, Li said.

"Women have more family duties than men, which affects women in all fields of work."

Li said that China should establish special policies for women scientists.

The National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) is looking to develop such a policy, having said in 2010 that women science researchers applying for funding should be prioritised.

Feng Jing, a female assistant researcher at the Institute of Plant Protection, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, said that she is excited about the NSFC's position on women.

So far she has had to continue studying because of the difficulties in finding suitable work. "This is very unfair on women, but it is still part of Chinese culture," she said.

Song added that China must monitor progress towards the new goals. All relevant departments should collect and analyse indicators in a timely fashion, she said.