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Gender Working Group:
Transformative Actions


As part of its recommendations, the Gender Working Group identified seven key issues which it considered to be particularly important, and for which transformative action is both necessary and feasible. In each case, the GWG report states the issue and outlines policy and program options for consideration of national governments and science and technology bodies and agencies.

These key issues and transformative actions emerged from the expert advisory reports commissioned by the Gender Working Group to aid its deliberations. The author of each of the papers was asked to identify recommendations for change within her sector. The reports are contained in Missing Links (International Development Research Centre, 1995).

In 2006, the Gender Advisory Board revisited each Transformative Area in view of whether it has continuing relevance, and if so, how it should be expanded 10 years later. In general, it was concluded that while there more research in many of these areas, as well as changes influenced by global trends, the 7 areas continue to be relevant today. Recommendations for policy and research were updated, and a new area added: Equal opportunity for entry and advancement into larger-scale science, technology, engineering, mathematics disciplines (STEM) and innovation systems.

It is not possible to estimate the cost of implementing these transformative actions. Some will be easy and cost little to implement, but others will take a long time and be costly. It will be necessary for each country to determine its own priorities and implement what it can within its own financial constraints.

The seven key areas for transformative action are:

  1. Gender equity in science and technology education
  2. Providing enabling measures for addressing gender inequalities in scientific and technological careers
  3. Making science responsive to the needs of society: the gender dimension
  4. Making the science and technology decision-making process more "gender aware"
  5. Relating better with "local knowledge systems"
  6. Addressing ethical issues in science and technology: the gender dimension
  7. Improving the collection of gender disaggregated data for policy makers
  8. Equal opportunity for entry and advancement into larger-scale science, technology, engineering, mathematics disciplines (STEM) and innovation systems.

Issue 1: Gender equity in science and technology education

While gender parity in access to formal education is changing, gender inequality in favour of boys continues to exist in many regions; and gender inequality which favours girls is seen at secondary and tertiary levels in many regions (and overall). However, it remains that of the girls who do gain access to schools, a smaller proportion than boys obtain training in science and technology. This limits girls and women's opportunities to meet their basic needs and improve the quality of their lives and those of their families; gain access to employment; create businesses; and acquire skills for citizenship. It also deprives nations of the contribution of many highly talented citizens. The extra barriers and obstacles confronting girls who seek training in science and technology subjects must be removed.

In view of the remaining obstacles and issues to gender parity and equal access in terms of race and socioeconomic level to quality science education, the GAB makes the following recommendations:

Transformative Actions:

Equity in Gaining Access:
  • All girls and boys should have equal access to quality basic and literacy education, including science and technology education.
  • All women and men should be enabled to achieve at least the level of functional literacy that includes science and technology concepts and skills.
  • All males and females/young men and women should leave the secondary /tertiary level with a basic understanding of S&T concepts.
  • Conduct research to understand the causes of male non-participation in those cultures where gender imbalance is in favour of females, e.g. Caribbean
  • All women and men should have equal access to tertiary level S&T education.
Equality of Opportunity Within Schools:
  • Ensure that the infrastructure, laboratories, and equipment in schools are available for girls and boys.
  • Ensure that teaching materials in science and technology are sensitive to gender concerns in terms of language and illustrations. Where possible, these materials should also illustrate the link between the subject matter and everyday lives of girls and boys.
  • The teaching of science should be broadened to include elements addressing the economic, social and ethical implications of science and technology.
  • Recognize the importance of mentors and role models by women science teachers and provide rewards to those who devote substantial time to this activity.
Opportunity for Distance Education and Re-Entry to Schools:
  • Provide multiple opportunities for re-entering school, especially for young mothers (in some cultures, early marriage and teenage pregnancy are major reasons for girls leaving school).
  • Introduce education programs with flexible locations and times to enable more students, especially girls, to acquire scientific literacy.
  • Introduce new approaches to science and technology education such as distance learning, making optimal use of both old (radio) and new (multimedia)
Opportunities for Formal and Non-Formal Education
  • Education should include formal and nonformal experience and approaches

Issue 2: Providing enabling measures for addressing gender inequalities in scientific and technological careers

In many countries, there are few women in scientific and technological careers. In addition to considerations of equity no country can afford to lose up to one half of its pool of creative and innovative human resources. The obstacles to greater participation of women in scientific and technical careers need to be addressed and overcome.

There are marked variations globally and regionally in participation in S&T workforce by field and country, which are for the most part unexplained. Recent national government task forces and reports have explored options for removing barriers to women in science and technology careers. These include general policies and policies to support the professional, personal and family needs of all employees and ensure that the employees are able to balance family responsibilities with professional ones and career development. There is a need to better understand what are the differing factors and preconditions for greater or lesser gender equity in science and technology. Can these preconditions be replicated? What are the differences between institutions?

Another question to be asked is, do women and men bring different skills and approaches to the study of science? That is, how do women's perspectives change the way some sciences and engineering are "done". Do women foster a more user or audience-driven approach to R&D over research- or technology-driven approaches? Are there gendered differences in the kinds of research questions that are asked; in how results are interpreted? For example, the contribution of women scientists to primatology has been the recognition of the role of matriarchal and female relationships in troop cohesion. This is a counterpoint to the previous tendency of the discipline to interpret primate behaviour in terms of stereotypical male-female relationships, for example the role of the alpha male and "harems".

Transformative Actions:

Equity in Access:
  • Steps should be taken by governments, society and educational institutions to ensure that women and men should have equal access to quality vocational-technical training and careers.
  • Establishing targets for participation of women can be a useful strategy. One useful target is the 40:40 target. In this target it is proposed that at least 40% of employees should be women and at least 40% should be men.

Specific Measures For All Employers:

  • Alternative work arrangements such as flexible hours, flexible locations, and job-sharing opportunities; and commitment to on-site child care facilities;

  • Maternity and paternity leave policies; and hiring and promotion criteria and processes to allow for family responsibilities so that maternity, paternity, and parental leaves do not jeopardize career progression;

  • Commitment to hiring, promotion and career development of women in science and technology while adhering to the merit principle;

  • Policies against discrimination and harassment in the workplace.

Policy Tools for Governments:
  • Tax relief for payment of childminders; pay equity legislation; legislation against discrimination; directives for collection of gender disaggregated statistics; establishment of focal points for advice on gender in science and technology; an increase in the number of women appointed to policy advisory and decision-making bodies.
Initiatives in Academia and the School System:
  • Establish networks of female professionals in science and engineering; enhance mentoring, role-model, and career advisory programs; provide flexible tenure criteria to accommodate family roles and responsibilities, and provide refresher courses, and re-entry scholarships for women returning to careers in science.
  • Research and policy experience should be assessed and compared to better understand how science systems, both private and public, can be structured to be more supportive of women's lives and perspectives.
  • Better understanding and recognition of women's contributions to science is needed
  • Analysis of the preconditions and factors including the nature and root causes of gender inequalities and imbalances in S&T and other disciplines, countries, and institutions.

Issue 3: Making science responsive to the needs of society: the gender dimension

Most professionals working in science and technology are insufficiently aware of the needs of their society and the impact of their work on these needs. Equally, citizens are insufficiently aware of the positive potential of science and technology to meet these needs. In particular, the gender specific nature of the needs and the differential impact of science and technology on the lives of men and women are inadequately recognized by either science and technology professionals or citizens.

Awareness of scientists and science of the needs of society relates to the contributions of women to the formulation of research agendas as well as the implementation of science and technology once developed. This is still in general a missing ingredient in R&D and the setting of the S&T research agenda. More research needs to be directed towards women's interests, needs and concerns. What technologies do women need to increase the rate and quality of food production? What are the community-based issues which have had insufficient technological attention? How can science and technology improve sanitation and cleanliness and provide affordable energy in ways that empower women and girls? These questions are not enough asked, nor are technologies developed to answer them.

To accomplish this, a multidisciplinary approach to science and technology R&D is required. This involves bottom-up, participatory and approaches to defining and designing research and development, approaches which incorporate views of women and men and take into account the perspectives and needs of the less-represented groups in society, particularly women.

Transformative actions:
  • Improve the decision-making mechanisms within the science system to ensure clear articulation of gender-specific needs and goals of society by incorporating end-user options, both those of women and men. Use decision-making techniques, such as technology assessment and decision framework analysis, that make the gender implications of the decisions explicit.

  • Encourage political parties and governments to be more explicit in their policy platforms about how they intend to use "science and technology" to meet the basic needs of both men and women equitably in society.

  • Encourage public media to sponsor popular science programming including reports on the potentials of science to serve goals of society and the basic needs of the people; promote reporting on the impact of science on people's lives and in particular the differential impact of science and technology on men and women.

  • Support NGOs working at the interface of gender in science and technology for development.

  • Establish research funding that targets unaddressed needs of marginalized communities.

  • Implement tenure and promotion criteria at universities and research institutions that credits work on these issues.

  • Encourage the scientific community to work towards these objectives and goals: strategies can include higher ratings for innovative ideas and publications that meet social needs, or allocating additional points or credit for identifying gender dimensions of research issues.

Issue 4: Making the science and technology decision-making process more "gender aware"

Current structures and processes for decision-making in science and technology for development do not systematically take into account the needs and aspirations of both women and men in a gender-disaggregated manner. Women's needs and interests have been relatively neglected, as have needs of the poor, ethnic minorities, disabled and indigenous peoples.

Transformative actions:
  • Increase the number of women on science and technology decision-making and policy advisory bodies. Set targets for representation on these bodies with timelines and strategies to ensure adherence.

  • Establish databases of professional women to provide institutions with a pool of names of qualified women to be considered for appointment to policy and advisory bodies.

  • Increase the understanding of all decision-makers about the gender implications of their decisions through explicit training programs.

  • Involve end users, men and women equally, in the determination of research priorities and in the design and implementation of technology and development programs. This will require explicit attention to the participation of women.

  • Subject all development programs with a high science and technology component to "gender impact analysis" before initiation. Gender analysis should be included in the design and the subsequent monitoring and evaluation. Technology assessment techniques and decision frameworks should incorporate a gender dimension.

  • Governments should establish a focal point of expertise in gender, science and technology to be available to advise government departments, facilitate training sessions, and monitor and report on the implementation of government strategies gender, science and technology.

Issue 5: Relating better with "local knowledge systems"

'Local and indigenous knowledge� refers to the cumulative and complex bodies of knowledge, know-how, practices and representations that are maintained and developed by peoples with extended histories of interactions with the natural environment. These cognitive systems are part of a complex that also includes language, attachment to place, spirituality and worldview. The definition of local knowledge taken here relates to the interaction of locally-based and/or indigenous knowledge with "scientific" or �modern� knowledge. It is an important part of the lives of the poor. It is the basis for decision-making of communities in food security, human and animal health, education and natural resource management.

Science and technology has inadequately addressed the potential of local knowledge systems, including both men and women�s local knowledge � which are frequently quite different, in the design and implementation of development programs. There is a need to develop new methods of interaction between the two systems for their mutual benefit. Local knowledge is frequently not recorded and is in danger of being lost.

Transformative Actions:
  • Ensure the preservation of local knowledge systems with specific attention to its gendered nature.

  • Development agencies should give full consideration to the considerations of local knowledge systems, giving specific recognition to the gendered nature of these systems. Make greater efforts to find creative ways to promote mutually beneficial exchanges between modern and traditional knowledge systems and technologies for the benefit of both women and men in rural areas.

  • Bodies engaged in the study and promotion of intellectual rights should address the capability of the present system to protect local knowledge owned by communities, paying special attention to its gendered nature. When external agencies exploit this knowledge for commercial gain, mechanisms should be found for compensating the men and/or women in communities where the knowledge originated.

  • Recognize gender differences in types, ownership and usage of local knowledge.

  • Recognize the importance of blending modern science with local /experiential knowledge.

  • Develop strategies and research to understand the quantity and quality of women's local knowledge, and supporting their equal access to, share of and ability to benefit from it.

  • Develop the range of legal and other policies necessary to support and protect the intellectual property rights of both women and men.

  • Document indigenous knowledge in non-exploitative ways which allow owners to retain ownership and benefit from the knowledge.

Issue 6: Addressing ethical issues in science and technology: the gender dimension

Ethical issues associated with both the conduct of scientific research and the application of the results of research frequently have a gender dimension which has not been sufficiently recognized or addressed.

Some of the new health biotechnologies pose grave risks for women, in particular concerning:
  • informed consent before undergoing new health procedures
  • potential for trade and sale of human genetic resources
  • development of health biotechnologies which are appropriate to women's physiologies and address key women's health concerns (i.e. microbicides)
  • control and commodification of women's reproduction.

For those clinical trials which take the male as the default/standard � what protections are in place for women? Are clinical trials conducted in ways that are respectful, rigorous, equitable? Are dosages and treatment regimes appropriate to women and men not from the default (often male, white) trial group? Do trials involve clear �informed consent?� Are clear ethical standards in place to protect women in developing countries who are the targets for clinical trials, such as in development of female contraceptives.

Transformative Actions:
  • National and international scientific organizations, both governmental and non-governmental, should develop international conventions, declarations or ethical codes of conduct to provide clear boundaries of acceptable practice both in research and in application pertaining to their fields of responsibility. These should be widely promulgated.

  • National governments should consider whether legislation is needed to enforce adherence to these codes of conduct. The use of technical procedures to identify foetal sex when the purpose is to abort the girl is a case where some national governments have taken action to legislate the boundaries of unacceptable practice. Other examples include testing of drugs on under privileged groups, particularly women; the exploitation of local knowledge for commercial gain by outside organizations without appropriate acknowledgment and compensation.

  • In determining the ethical issues on which guidelines and codes of conduct are to be developed, there should be wide consultation and involvement of stakeholders and end users.

Issue 7: Improving the collection of gender disaggregated data for policy makers

There is a paucity of data available at the national and international level on the participation rates of men and women in scientific and technological education and careers. There still is no systematic approach or coordinated method for ensuring the systematic collection of gender-disaggregated data on science and technology. Of equal importance for policy makers is the unavailability of data on the differential impact of technical change on men and women's lives.

A baseline issue continues to be the need to process, analyse, and disseminate sex-disaggregated data. It continues to be important to educate policy makers and data collection agencies on value of and how to analyse effectively for use in achieving and measuring progress towards national goals.

Transformative Actions:
  • An international meeting of statisticians, and science, technology, and gender specialists from national and international bodies should be convened by the United Nations (possibly UNESCO) to identify the critical statistics necessary for policy purposes; to designate responsibility centers; and to establish mechanisms for coordination and collaboration. Methods and common approaches should be decided on to permit cross-culture comparisons over time and to ensure the best use of resources.

  • National governments and the United Nations system should revise statistics data-collection methods to ensure gender-disaggregated statistics are systematically and regularly collected both on participation rates and on differential impact; these bodies should coordinate efforts to ensure the collection of complimentary sets of data, using common methods.

  • Data collected by national governments should be made available to both local and international bodies to ensure their maximum use in policy and program formulation and to ensure their aggregation at the regional and international levels.
  • Scientific bodies, universities, and academies should also collect relevant gender-disaggregated data.

Issue 8: Equal opportunity for entry and advancement into larger-scale STEM and innovation systems

Advancement into management and leadership of high level STEM organizations, and the ability to establish and manage successful medium and large-scale enterprises, are important factors for national innovation systems and the ability of countries to compete in global innovation systems. Encouraging women to undertake the design and control of development, production, marketing, and distribution will create jobs and generate wealth, contributing to national economic growth. Steps should be taken to encourage women's participation in innovation systems through their own enterprises as well as active engagement in innovation industry (including ICTs and advanced networks) at senior levels. Related issues include promotion and facilitation of women's inventions, protection of women's intellectual property, and access to capital to for industrial/entrepreneurial development, from the level of micro-credit all the way to venture capital.

Some of the questions and issues in this area include:
  • What are the implications for development, management and growth of science and technology-based enterprises run by women from small to medium to large-scale?

  • How can we promote the greater participation of women and women's enterprises in innovation systems / research, business and government?

  • What are the gendered implications of opportunities for men, women at different socio-economic levels in "priority" or high-investment industries and sectors?

Transformative Actions:
  • Research needs to be undertaken on the effects of trade and globalization on markets and women's production. This includes the need to have reliable access to information on resources, export laws and regulations, cross-border transactions, supply and production networks; as well as market information.
  • The implications of trade regimes for IPRs of women and men in developing countries, which is often based on local and indigenous common-property knowledge, need to be better understood and addressed.
  • In assessing and taking steps to address current changes in society and economy resulting from globalized innovation and trade systems, gender dimensions should be recognized.
  • Governments and agencies should test and investigate appropriate structures, funding, regulation and training to support small, micro and medium business development based on S&T knowledge, technology and innovation systems.
  • Detailed analysis and comparison of women's role and leadership in the private sector using reliable data and case studies should be undertaken, at national, local and regional levels, including sectors and industries where women are more or less represented; the willingness of men to work for women managers; and perceptions about women's physical or intellectual abilities to participate in certain sectors.

For resources, partners and best practices in implementing these transformative action areas, see the Gender, Science and Technology Gateway

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