UN to survey gender sensitivity of science policies

Better STI educational access for women is one of the key recommendations of the UNCTAD report Copyright: Flickr/UN Women Gallery

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The Commission on Science and Technology (CSTD), in collaboration with the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), plans to publish a series of case studies highlighting best practice in gender equality policies in science, technology and innovation (STI) of governments around the world.

The goal is to promote more effective STI policies, by taking a greater account of women in development.

In March this year, the UNCTAD, which acts as a secretariat for the CSTD, sent questionnaires to each of CSTD’s 43 member states, asking them to identify examples of successful ST&I policymaking from a gender perspective. It also hopes to identify the more commendable governments as subjects for in-depth case studies.

The survey’s results will provide a platform for discussion within the CSTD. They will also provide an input for the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), when it meets in 2014 to discuss issues of gender, STI and development.

The survey follows a report, ‘Applying a Gender Lens to Science, Technology and Innovation’ — published by the UNCTAD, in November 2011 — which concluded that applying a gender perspective when analysing, designing, implementing and monitoring STI policies was critical to successful development.

Women’s contribution to development in southern nations is substantial, and therefore using "a gender lens in STI policies is essential for achieving human development and environmental sustainability," the report said.

It went on to highlight three STI policy areas of particular importance.

Firstly, it said, science must help women contribute to areas such as agriculture, energy and water management. It was vital for women to gain access to education, technology and transport, and to be involved in decision-making in these areas, the report said.

Next, policies need to encourage women to become involved in STI by addressing gender biases in teaching science and technology subjects, supporting the recruitment of women, and creating flexibility in working hours.

Lastly, policies should encourage and support women in innovation, both nationally and at grassroots level. Women must be given greater access to education, capital and markets, and be represented in upper level business positions, the report concluded.

Among the key recommendations were calls to identify, disseminate and share case studies on successful gender policies in STI aimed at policymakers.

Although the report contains examples of successful gender-balanced STI policies from a range of countries — including Brazil, China, Ghana, India, the Philippines, Rwanda and South Africa — there is still a lack of data, Dong Wu, UNCTAD’s chief of science and technology, told SciDev.Net.

"We designed this survey to try and gauge what is actually happening on the ground with regards to STI policymaking," she said.

Shirley Malcom, head of education at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), agreed that unless the world generated data to stimulate debate, gender inequality in STI policy would be a conversation "our grandchildren will be having".

"Getting sceptics to listen is always difficult, but … evidence is the best start," Malcom said. "If you can show enough powerful examples, you can move people who are on the fence."

Malcom added that getting STI policymakers to embrace gender issues was essential for achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

Link to the full report [3.57MB]