The nature of the economics underlying scientific enterprise, he said, results in hierarchical organisations with men typically at the top.
New Delhi: With few women scientists and even fewer in positions of leadership, the glass ceiling stretches strong and powerfully over India’s laboratories and research institutions, leaving the sector vulnerable to incidents of sexual harassment, scientists say.
The recent allegations against a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University’s School of Life Sciences here has put the issue of treatment of women in Indian science labs under the microscope.
While sexual transgressions in the sector are not very different from those in other fields, the patriarchal power structures of scientific research, the gender imbalance, close supervisor-student relationship and long hours make it especially vulnerable, insiders said.
“Science, like all human endeavours, benefits from diversity. There are too few women scientists at the top of the power structures of Indian science. Further, women scientists are much less visible, resulting in a dearth of role models,” Aurnab Ghose from the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Pune, told PTI.
The nature of the economics underlying scientific enterprise, he said, results in hierarchical organisations with men typically at the top. All this in the broader societal context of systematic gender discrimination leaves women vulnerable to harassment, he said.
There are no figures for sexual harassment in science, but numbers could be high.
Sudha Bhattacharya, a retired professor from JNU’s School of Environmental Science, noted that a PhD supervisor exercised significant power over a student in terms of contributing to academic excellence and in other matters such as recommendations for future jobs.
“In experimental science, the supervisor has even more authority since the student needs a whole range of lab facilities, including equipment and reagents, which could be very expensive,” Bhattacharya told PTI.
The research student has to discuss data and plan future experiments regularly, sometimes daily, with the supervisor, requiring the student-supervisor relationship to be cordial at the very least, she said.