CORRECTING THE GENDER IMBALANCE IN SCIENCE EDUCATION
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CTA. 1993. CORRECTING THE GENDER IMBALANCE IN SCIENCE EDUCATION. Spore 44. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/49090
Should the development of matters affecting women be considered as a separate issue from from those affecting the development of men? It appeared to some people that it became fashionable some years ago to consider 'women in development' as an...
Should the development of matters affecting women be considered as a separate issue from from those affecting the development of men? It appeared to some people that it became fashionable some years ago to consider 'women in development' as an issue divorced from development in general. It was an attitude that grew out of a recognition that women have considerable power in developing societies and so to continue to ignore women was not only discourteous but wasteful and short-sighted and, more persuasively, could be counter-productive to the achievement of development objectives. But there was an over-reaction which led to 'women's issues' heading every agenda. It reinforced many men's perception of the value of women's lives as different from, and therefore inevitably less important than, their own. Equally damaging, it tended to reinforce many women's own perception of themselves as being subservient to men. Current thinking puts both men and women at the forefront of development objectives, acknowledging their different roles in society but refusing to suggest that either sex should be considered in isolation. However, changing attitudes takes time and there is still a tendency to assume that the term 'gender issues' is simply 'women's issues' under a more acceptable name Perhaps this is good because women certainly have some catching up to do. Lack of science education The gap between men and women is demonstrated in education and training, particularly in the sciences. A Working Paper prepared for FAO by Dr Veronica Martinson draws attention to the importance of women's participation in science, as a search for knowledge for the advancement of society. Dr Martinson is a Ghanaian and, prior to her retirement, was Director of the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana; before being appointed Director she had worked for many years as a cocoa breeder. Her paper gives an account of the traditional roles of women in agriculture and their contribution to rural development and describes changes brought about by scientific and technological innovations in systems of agriculture and in related occupations. Dr Martinson's paper examines methods of operation, gender-speciticityof various types of work, and the socio-economic circumstances of women. It also lists some of the factors that militate against full participation of women in scientific endeavours and the use of modem technologies, and proposes strategies for overcoming these problems. It gives some of the reasons why few women take advantage of science and technical education, and makes proposals for improving the position of women of all ages. Effects of urbanization on living conditions, whether negative or positive, on both rural and urban women are described. Finally, suggestions are made for finding ways of stimulating women's interest in science and in the generation and use of appropriate technologies for development. One of the reasons for the inability of women in developing countries to make full use of new technologies is their generally low standard of education and poor access to information. Some effort is being made in several countries to get conscientious extension officers to assist women engaged in agriculture and food processing. However, it has been observed that most of these extension officers are male, who for religious or cultural reasons are unable to interact effectively with the women. Ideally, women extension officers would be in a better position to understand women's problems and would be more acceptable, especially if they were recruited from the same locality. There are problems of transportation and accommodation for women in the rural areas, and it does not always seem wise to send married women to work away from their families. The situation is that there are simply not enough women with the requisite scientific background. With the introduction of basic science education it should be possible to find literate women within the rural communities to act as leaders and help disseminate the necessary information. This should become possible if girls could be given science education from a very early age. In the upper section of the primary schools, science lessons are usually among the extra-curricula activities. The dearth of girls with science education is partly due to the system of having separate schools for boys and girls as required by religious laws in some countries. The curriculum for girls is often designed with the view of preparing them for motherhood and housekeeping. The same idea is sometimes maintained in mixed schools. This encourages discrimination at an early age, giving the impression that the ultimate vocation for girls is simply housekeeping. It is important that all school children, regardless of sex and academic performance, should have sufficient scientific education to be able to understand modem scientific methods of food preparation, and the use of every day farm equipment and household appliances. In the same way, boys should study home economics, which will enable them to assist the womenfolk, or at least to have a better understanding of their work. Pupils of the secondary schools should also be encouraged to take an interest in new technological developments through visits to scientific and industrial institutions. Since most of the girls leave at the end of the primary school, every encouragement must be given to parents who appear to be unable to support their daughters' continued education. A fair percentage of places must be reserved for girls, and some bursaries instituted. Undoubtedly, not all the girls will attain academic excellence or even a mediocre performance in science, but they should be guided, nonetheless, to appreciate the advantages of basic science education. Discussions with, or visits from local women who have benefited from this education and who have been successful in science-related employment are encouraging both to the school girls and to parents. Much depends on the attitude of the government and various organizations toward women in science-related professions. If there are signs of discrimination or frustration in employment, younger women will be driven away from such areas. One of the best examples of an in\9Cntive for increased science education is the satisfied and fulfilled woman scientist or woman in a science-related career.