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Powering Change: Women in innovation and Creativity

Women taking up science, engineering itself is a very small number. Amongst them a few lucky persons can come up to graduation and a very meagre number do complete their post-graduation and come up to PhD level.  To become an inventor or innovator one need not be a scientist or  a technologist. An ordinary person can work out and come out with a marvelous invention or creation provided he or she thinks differently and eagerly wants to come out with a new solution to the existing problem or to come out with a process or method that results in tremendous improvement over the existing ones with economic advantage. Women empowerment is a sensitive and difficult issue. Especially in countries like India and even in many developed countries also, in most of the cases women are restricted to household activities wherein their innate creative and intellectual abilities are wasted. Women in most of the cases are rather happily accepting this role of taking care of the house which never gives them any chance to show case their talents but curbs them rather harshly.

A 2017 report on Gender Equality found that the number of women in the science, technology and innovation fields was low in the world’s leading economies. Women’s long fight to be recognized at par with men though has brought about some balance amongst genders in some ways but gender equality is still a far cry. Women still struggle for equal opportunities in certain disciplines.

In her famous book – “Nobel Prize Women in Science,” author Sharon Bertsch McGrayne has written about 10 women and their struggles on their way to achieving the Nobel Prize.  In this book, the women Nobel Prize winners have talked about how they made their way forward amidst difficulties when no one was in favour of women education. Though women have been contributing to the field of creativity, science and innovation many a time their efforts go rather unnoticed and unrecognized. On very few occasions women inventors got their recognition for example, computer programming was invented by a woman scientist – Grace Hoper. Stephanie Kwolek, another woman scientist, invented Kevlar, a material five times stronger than steel and which is used world over to protect people from bullets. These are a few incidents to cite.

As of 2017, Nobel Prizes have been awarded to 844 men, 48 women (Marie Curie won it twice), and 27 organizations. One Yonath is awarded the Nobel along with two other male members in the recent years in chemistry. One ToYouYou got the Noble at the fag end of her life. What about Miss Meitner and many such other woman- scientists, who worked much harder and put in much more efforts compared to their male counterparts in any part of the world?  Marie Curie is the only person till now who has been awarded Nobel prize in two different science streams. This record has not been broken till today by any other person.   These are a few instances when women have come up and stood to their determination in achieving success, bringing laurels to their countries. As rightly said by Madam Curie,” Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained.” – Marie Curie.  But she had a very good family that supported her, her own husband Pierre Curie, initially her father who thought of educating his daughters, above all her strong determination and unrelenting quest to do research made her ascend the throne of success. She rather humbly donated her prize money for public welfare, named the element discovered by her in the name of her motherland shows strong love towards her country. In this aspect women are much above and in fact no man is above any woman.

But woman (the female of most of the higher species) has the tremendous potential to change the order of this world one day, which she has forgotten rather forcibly! A startling revelation I want to cite here to showcase a female’s role in the evolutionary sequence, to be specific role of the female species in the process of evolution and origin of species is interesting and thought provoking. The female species has been the backbone and the deciding factor in case of evolution of organisms. The female rather selectively mated with those male counterparts in bringing about powerful offspring with the desired characteristics. She has been doing this rather silently and the male had to please her with his special characteristics so as to get accepted by her. This is not only with the lower animals but historically also we have evidences from our mythologies. Greek civilization, especially the Spartans are known for their valour, strength because of the selective upbringing of the capable offspring.

Now the question is not restricted to how to empower the woman, but how to make her realize her potential and think that she is no less than any male member. Woman is the back bone and strong pillar on which the family’s superstructure is amply supported.  Upbringing children, running the house, taking care of the family are becoming a burden on her. In the event of any disaster whether natural or man made such as floods, draughts, crop failures, loan clearance  the man will definitely take to suicide as he is mentally not strong, whereas the woman will stand upright and continue the left over tasks, shoulder responsibility and put the house in order.(happening in many parts of India). Then what has happened to her strength, intellect and accomplishments? Who is responsible for her taking a back seat in the field of science and creativity?

Research by WIPO indicates that while globally the number of women using the international patent system has increased over time, it will be decades before we see women patenting their innovations at the same rate as their male counterparts. These data show that in 2015, just one-third of international patent applications filed featured the name of a women inventor. We already know that women are less likely to be named as authors in scientific publications. Now, there is evidence of a yawning gender gap in the use of WIPO’s Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), which facilitates the process of obtaining patent protection in more than 150 countries.

Very few successful woman-inventors are there. One Mandy Haberman, founder- Haberman Baby could come out with her inventions, patent them successfully, establish and run her business using her inventions which came out through her necessity to take care of her child born with different needs. Phyllis Muturi, a 2013 AWARD Fellow from Kenya, is focussing on high-yielding drought-tolerant varieties of sorghum, a prized crop and food source in Kenya’s drylands.  Filomena Dos Anjos, a 2008 AWARD Fellow and a leading animal health scientist from Mozambique is breaking new ground in the health and husbandry of indigenous chicken which are an important source of protein and income in her country. She works with women and young farmers to promote the use of a thermo-tolerant vaccine against the deadly Newcastle Disease, and on brooding and feeding technologies to improve productivity. Her work is helping to strengthen the food security and incomes of the chicken farmers. Asima Chatterjee, Rajeswari Chatterjee, Stephanie Kwolek, Margaret Knight (called lady Edison), Tessy Thomas, Kiran Mazumdar shaw, Marie Van Brittan Brown(CCTV), Marie Telkes (first solar power heater), Mary Anderson ( wind shield wiper) are a few names to quote across the world who have made their mark in the field of inventions and research. 

 Our Indian scenario is very different and survival of the girl child itself is becoming a problem due to societal pressures. Illiteracy, school drop outs due various reasons, early marriages, disparity shown by parents between boys and girls, neglecting girl child education, female foeticide, and societal dogmas are the main reasons for female backwardness in education, economic condition in India. Still a few spirited women have crossed these barriers and entered the male bastions with their innovative ideas and creations.  Mehvish Mushtaq is the first woman from Kashmir to come out with an android app that helped the local people by becoming a one-stop source for information on healthcare, education, transport, the police and various other sectors. Sumita Ghose from Bikaner established an artisan collective that sells a range of handcrafted products to Fab India and IKEA. Forming a self-help group by the name, Seuji, Sobita has made it possible for the farmers in the region to access organic manure, which is now in high demand. The founder of one of the first women artisan enterprises in the country, Pabiben Rabari stands as a true brand ambassador of the colourful Kutch district and has been awarded the ‘National Best Entrepreneur Award’ in food processing by the Confederation of Women Entrepreneurs of India in 2014. Mysuru’s Chayaa Nanjappa spearheads a rural enterprise Nectar Fresh which sources high-quality honey that is bought by people from as far as Europe and the United States, which produces monofloral honey is one of the largest bulk suppliers and packers of honey in the country providing a livelihood for not just illiterate communities in Mysore and Mandya districts, but also tribal communities

 Present Indian Prime Minister Sri Narendra Modi has come out with many schemes like Beti Bachao Beti Padao. But this is not enough. He also should come out with schemes like Vignan ko Bachao and Beti ko Vignan padao, Vignan Ki Avishkar Karne Ki Kshamata dilao.  Then only in this country the flourishing of science and women innovators can happen. In general funds for science, technology should be increased sufficiently, free and fair environment that is conducive for active research should be created. Opportunities should be provided for every body irrespective of caste, creed, gender and religion. People in poverty, down-trodden, women, girls should be given funds, opportunities from the very beginning i.e from the primary school and should be continued till the point where they can support themselves, otherwise there is no fun in providing reservations and sops at graduate and postgraduate level, by which time a particular girl has already dropped out of schooling for reasons very well known to us. Unless and until this problem is addressed one can not expect the sustained growth of  women in science and technology on par with men in this country that forms the backbone of all-round development ,   so that they can come out with their inventions that would benefit the world one  day or the other. Then only India can regain its supreme status in the field of knowledge and science which it has lost centuries ago.

The study conducted by Danish economist Ester Boserup, brought out some valid points for the poor percentage of woman participation in innovations and creativity. He carried out one of the first evidence-based studies to examine the economic impact of development projects on women from Third World countries, finding that women were largely excluded from the benefits of these technologically sophisticated programmes. In an analysis of nineteenth-century women and innovation in the United States he found that nearly 500 women were found to have patented more than one invention, getting income from their discoveries due to adoption of property laws protecting women’s individual property rights. Patenting by women was higher in those states with formal property laws indicating that legal reform was capable of boosting women’s involvement in patenting and commercial activities. Practicalities and financial scope for women to take advantage of patents is often limited. Inventors working in organizations will have better research opportunities, better funding, greater access to laboratory equipment and facilities, greater opportunities for knowledge exchange, improved earnings and increased professional visibility and reputation. A lack of such provisions is responsible for the poor show by women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Patents are a costly affair and takes time before any income is obtained. Providing the capital, child-care facility at the work spot, encouraging women to work as start-ups, working from home, providing marketing and patenting facilities free of cost are some of the mechanisms to motivate women to empower themselves through innovation and creativity.

Gender bias, discrimination in the fields of creativity, science and innovations based on gender is against Mother Nature and it should be condemned and avoided at all costs world wide to promote healthy competitive environment to make our beautiful world much more beautiful and peaceful.

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