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[NEW DELHI] The Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World (OWSD) plans to develop mentoring programmes and raise funds for capacity building to assist female scientists in developing countries.

OWSD, which is partly funded by The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS), was launched in 1993 to improve women's representation in science and technology research, teaching and leadership.

Farida Habib Shah, a vice-president on OWSD's executive board and a member of TWAS's council, told SciDev.Net that OWSD wants to develop mentorship programmes at all levels of female scientists' careers; from schools to universities and beyond.

OWSD is also seeking donors to help fund training and capacity building related to: public science communication; up-and-coming research programmes common to the Asian region; and emerging technologies that female scientists in developing countries may have less access to.

Shah was in New Delhi, India, from 24-27 September to attend a meeting of the Science Academies of South Asia, which held a workshop on women in science. She said OWSD also hopes to collate information on women in science — including women in scientific and administrative positions, and in industry — and find role models "who can tell stories" about their careers.

Other plans include increasing the number of awards and postdoctorate fellowships the OWSD offers to female scientists in developing countries, and the amount of travel funds it provides for young female scientists to attend international conferences.

Earlier, Shah told the workshop that women are underrepresented in leadership roles in science, and face gender discrimination that restrict promotions.

She referred to a "leaky pipeline" — the steady drop out of girls and women from scientific career paths; from education to employment and to representation on the boards of scientific organisations.

“Diversity adds to science and women add to diversity in science.”

Rohini Godbole, Indian Institute of Science 

This is mainly the result of women starting families and their desire to balance family responsibilities and commitments with career demands, she said.

Rohini Godbole, a member of the scientific advisory committee to the Indian cabinet and a physics professor at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, said there was a need to assess the gender balance in Indian science institutions as a step towards long-term gender equity.

"The time has come to think of a gender audit in academic institutions and faculties," she said.
"We need to set graduated goals after determining their feasibility."

There is also a need for a more transparent and well-defined process to evaluate female scientists' career progress, for improved gender awareness at all levels and for help so that female scientists can achieve a career-family balance, Godbole said.

Pursuit of excellence in science suffers due to "inefficient and insufficient" representation of women in science, she said, adding, "diversity adds to science and women add to diversity in science".

Female scientists from Australia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, South Korea and Turkey expressed concern at the meeting over women's underrepresentation in national science academies and senior science positions. Shamima Choudhury, professor of physics at the University of Dhaka, said the representation of women in Bangladesh "declines substantially" from high school to the highest academic positions.

"Women succeed in science as a result of their own merit, initiative and drive," she said. But, she added, "family support, institutional support and government support are [also] very important for women to succeed in their professional career".