[EDEQUITY Dialogue] Opening Statment

From: Cristine.Min.Wotipka
Date: Mon Nov 13 2000 - 15:36:01 EST

I would like to begin by thanking the WEEA Equity Resource Center at
the EDC for inviting me to join the Dialogue on Women and Girls in
Science. Last year's discussion offered a unique and very interesting
opportunity to hear from folks from around the world with a similar
interest in the topic but with differing experiences and expertise. I
very much look forward to the discussion this year!

This is my fifth and final year as a doctoral candidate in the
International Comparative Education program in the Stanford University
School of Education. As a teaching fellow, I will offer a course next
quarter entitled "Education and the Status of Women: Comparative
Perspectives." My dissertation is a cross-national study of women's
participation in science and engineering (S&E), primarily at the higher
education level, from 1970 to the present. I am grateful to the American
Association of University Women (AAUW) Educational Foundation for
their support of my dissertation project this year. In this opening
statement, I briefly highlight some findings from my research that may be
of interest to participants in this discussion. It will be evident that
my primary interest in women in science rests at the global-level.
Therefore, I hope that part of the discussion will involve an analysis and
input at this level.

First, what are the trends in female participation in S&E higher
education? In many parts of the world, female participation equals or
even surpasses their male counterparts in higher education as a whole.
Yet, women make up less than one-quarter of S&E students around the
world, although these numbers continue to rise in most countries. When
computed as a share of all students in S&E for the region, women in
Eastern Europe have traditionally enjoyed the highest rates of
participation compared with their sisters in other parts of the world
(i.e. around 30 percent). Yet, the rates of change for this region have
been relatively static over time. Those participants who are familiar
with trends in Eastern Europe may be able to shed light on how economic,
political and social changes in the region may be impacting women's
participation in these fields of study and work. At the other end of the
spectrum are women in Africa who have experienced the lowest rates
(around 12 percent); this figure has been slow to move as well.

Despite an increase in women's share of S&E students in higher
education, the evidence suggests that relative to other fields of study,
both women's and men's participation in S&E are on the decline. While
having more options and greater freedom to pursue a major of one's own
choosing are important (particularly in those countries in which
performance on university entrance exams has usually dictated one's field
of study), those of us participating in this discussion might find it
useful to consider ways to maintain the interest of *all* students,
females and males, in science, engineering and math (Indeed, studies have
shown that programs aimed at getting girls interested in science work
equally well to interest boys). These are just a few of the trends in S&E
education. Unfortunately, the international data on female workforce
participation in scientific disciplines are severely lacking but vitally
important for a *full* understanding of the impact of the unequal
participation of females in S&E education.

Given this situation, what is being done at the global level to allow for
women's equal participation in S&E education? To answer this question,
I have looked to the international discourse as found in the publications
of three international organizations which have played the largest role in
fostering female participation in S&E education over the past thirty years
-- the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization
(UNESCO), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the
World Bank. I have also examined the declarations and action plans
resulting from international conferences that have dealt with women's
issues, science, and/or education. In last year's discussion, Sophia
Huyer, Executive Director of Women in Global Science and Technology
(WIGSAT), highlighted some interesting sections of the World
Conference on Science (1999) which reveal greater attention to the needs
and interests of women.

Using a feminist theoretical lens with which to examine similar sections
of relevant documents, I find that international conferences have tended
to support liberal feminist recommendations aimed at expanding women's
access to science without actually calling for changes that alter the way
in which science is performed. Such changes have been common to radical
critics of science and are what I lump together with other types of
changes into the heading of "transformative." Among the documents of
international organizations, several of those published by UNESCO have
given their support to transformative changes to science in order to truly
make women equal partners with men in science. Given the range and
depth of this organization's work on science education and gender issues,
this may not be surprising but it is nonetheless encouraging considering
that the other two organizations have tended to rely on liberal feminist
options for science education. Furthermore, recent world conferences
have shown that the will to bring such transformative changes to the table
at international conferences and subsequently, to the ministries or
departments of education and science in individual countries, will only
expand as the range of participants who are involved in women in science
issues widens and is given a greater voice in fostering real change. In
particular, it will be exciting to watch non-governmental organizations
heighten their ability to influence transformative changes for women in

This leads to the issue of primary concern for this year's discussion --
that of challenges in improving outcomes for girls and women in
science. I am particularly interested in ideas that participants have
regarding concrete ways in which science may be opened up to a greater
diversity of views, especially those of girls and women. Perhaps those of
you who are involved in individual programs may share your experiences
while those who are familiar with policy issues may know of suggestions
leading to transformative changes that have been made in various
contexts. At an international level, last year's discussion touched upon
a growing openness to supporting traditional forms of knowledge as
evidenced in the Framework and Declaration of the World Conference on
Science. How might this support play itself out on national and local
levels? Additionally, I am interested to hear from representatives of
non-governmental and non-profit organizations in the U.S. and abroad
who can inform us of their efforts to work with other organizations, such
as the more traditional governmental-organizations, to embrace
transformations in science that directly benefit women and girls.

These are just a few of the questions and issues that I look forward to
discussing over the next few days!

Best wishes,
Christine Min Wotipka
Stanford University School of Education

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