Re: International questions

Date: Fri Dec 03 1999 - 10:41:42 EST

Dear Christine and Judith and participants,

Thank you for your thoughtful comments and questions.

Judith's suggestion that UNIFEM and UNESCO engage or support in
international and regional campaigns to combat stereotypes concerning
women and girls in science is an excellent idea which does not require
huge investments of time and energy, and would have a large impact. It is
in fact stated in the World Conference on Science Framework for Action
that national governments, donor agencies and others should "launch, in
collaboration with UNESCO and UNIFEM, national, regional and global
campaigns to raise awareness of the contribution of women to science and
technology, in order to overcome existing gender stereotypes among
scientists, policy-makers and the community at large." We need to ask
UNESCO and UNIFEM whether they have plans to launch any initiatives!

There certainly is enough material to work with - for example, the OFAN
Pavilion at the Beijing World Conference on Women included members'
posters highlighting women scientists and OFAN itself has produced some
posters highlighting women's science activities. Other international
resource groups include: the Gender and Science and Technology
Association, the Third World Association for Women in Science, the many
worldwide Associations for Women in Science and Engineering (AWISE), the
International Council of Women in Engineering and Science (ICWES), the
Federation for African Women Educationalists (FAWE), and many, many more.

This is one strategy to overcome cultural barriers to women's
participation in and girls' interest in science. I think it might be
useful to learn of different examples of how cultural barriers are being
overcome in developing countries - can any of the list members contribute?

I also think one of the important tasks that needs to be done is to start
to network all of these networks -- and perhaps an international role
model campaign is the way to start!

On a smaller scale, maybe a first step can be a central listing of
international women in science and technology organisations, with a
sublist of national organisations, available on the WWW. This would be an
important resource for national governments, UN and bilateral agencies,
etc. The Gender Advisory Board and the UNISPAR programme at UNESCO have
started compiling such a list as part of a policy toolkit on "Gender
Indicators for Engineering, Science and Technology" which lists resources
and case studies on collecting gender disaggregated data in various
sectors of science and technology.

On Christine's comments about generating *transformative* approaches to
women in science, I would like to make some observations from my
perspective in international networking in women and S&T, and my work with
the policy side of things at the Gender Advisory Board and the recent
World Conference on Science. The gender lobbying group at the Conference
was pleasantly surprised to find that a very high percentage of our
recommendations for the Conference Framework and Declaration were included
in the final text.
Paragraph 90 was the key achievement in my view:

"90. Taking into account the outcome of the six regional forums on women
and science sponsored by UNESCO, the Conference stresses that special
efforts should be made by governments, educational institutions,
scientific communities, non-governmental organizations and civil society,
with support from bilateral and international agencies, to ensure the full
participation of women and girls in all aspects of science and technology,
and to this effect to:
- promote within the education system the access of girls and women to
scientific education at all levels
- improve conditions for recruitment, retention and advancement in all
fields of research;
- launch, in collaboration with UNESCO and UNIFEM, national, regional and
global campaigns to raise awareness of the contribution of women to
science and technology, in order to overcome existing gender stereotypes
among scientists, policy-makers and the community at large;
- undertake research, supported by collection and analysis of gender
disaggregated data, documenting constraints and progress in expanding the
role of women in science and technology;
- monitor the implementation and document best practices and lessons
learned through impact assessment and evaluations;
- ensure an appropriate representation of women in national, regional and
establish an international network of women scientists;
- continue to document the contributions of women in science and
technology. "

However, as Christine will notice, these recommendations do not call into
question the current dominant framework of science. This is partly because
the participants at the Conference were representatives of national
governments, hardly a radical crowd, but also because I think the
discussions around the directions, implementation and purpose of science
at the international level tend to be framed in terms of (sustainable)
development. The feminist critique of science and technology for
development has emerged through criticisms of how science and technology
has disadvantaged women's wellbeing, social status, income earning
ability, etc. So the transformative vision comes not through philosophical
or historical critiques of the nature of science but through practical
examples of a) the environmental deterioration, increased poverty and
malnutrition etc resulting from the disregarding of women's practices and
concerns; and b) demonstrating how women's approaches to science can
contribute to sustainable development. (Jayshree, you may want to add or
critique this, based on your perspective!)

I personally think that focusing on women's (and men's) indigenous
knowledge is potentially revolutionary: that is, requiring science to
acknowledge, test and refine (where necessary) indigenous approaches to
agriculture, natural resources management, and health could substantively
change the way scientific research is framed and implemented. To make it,
as OFAN says, more people-oriented. Therefore I think number 87 in the
World Conference Framework could promote a more transformist approach to
science if governments were to take this recommendation seriously:

   "87. Governments should support cooperation between holders of
traditional knowledge and scientists to explore the relationships
   between different knowledge systems and to foster inter-linkages of
mutual benefit."

And there are increasing numbers of initiatives exploring this: the Asian
Alliance for Appropriate Technology Practitioners (Approtech Asia) has for
years been bringing women scientists together with grassroots food
producers in the Philippines to improve nutrition and yield of traditional
food products and production methods. The World Bank is starting a major
initiative on Indigenous Knowledge.

(That being said, I have just bought a copy of Sandra Harding's _Is
Science Multicultural? Postcolonialisms, feminisms and epistemologies_,
and I look forward to reading her approach to a multicultural critique of
science theory!)

One other comment. When the UN Commission on S&T for Development convened
its Gender Working Group in 1993, the all-male working group made the
revolutionary decision to work with several women advisors from NGOs and
research institutes who suggested critical areas of importance for the
Group to address. They were also commissioned to provide assessments of
state-of-the-art research, data and theory in various S&T areas. There was
a considerable amount of debate as to whether having more women in science
would bring about a *different* science - which many of the advisors
believed, or whether it was important to bring more women into science for
equity reasons alone. In the end, although some of the male working group
members understood and sympathised with the *difference* argument, the
Group as a whole officially accepted the equity argument only: that having
more women scientists in decision-making positions would lead to different
research priorities and the development of different sorts of technology.
The reason given was that there wasn't enough solid data to support the
*difference* stance.

On the other hand, if the recommendations of the Gender Working Group on
S&T for development were ever substantially implemented by national
governments, the results would certainly be transformative!

Sophia Huyer

Sophia Huyer
Women in Global Science and Technology
Once and Future Action Network
623 Brimley Road
Grafton, Ontario K0K 2G0
Tel (1-905) 349-9962
Fax (1-905) 349-2066

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