Science is perhaps humanity’s most significant endeavour. Every ‘thing’ that surrounds us is a direct result of scientific thought and innovation; right from the screen, you are reading this on, to the ergonomically designed chair you are using. Suffice it to say that science is the best tool we have for investigating our surroundings, the universe, and shaping it in pursuit of human progress.
There were fewer women and girls in science in the earlier days. It was because of reasons like the societal structure, the involvement of women in household chores, and so on. As a result, some brilliant women such as Rosalind Franklin, Ada Lovelace, Jocelyn Bell Burnell were deprived of recognition, respect, and reward. No wonder why Hedy Lamarr is remembered as an actress, completely overshadowing her scientific and technological contributions.
While there were norms that would not let women hold the positions of authority, women were celebrated for their scientific and philosophical contributions by many. History is illuminated by various women philosophers/scientists from ancient times such as Hypatia of Alexandria, Arete of Cyrene (Plato’s student), Themistocles (Pythagoras’ teacher), to Émilie du Châtelet, and Madame Curie in modern times.
In the novel — A room of one’s own, Virginia Woolf argues for the need for women to have the means, money, and (physical) space to contribute to the literature. Women and Girls in Science, certainly need all that, along with the encouragement to pursue an education in science. There are innumerable instances in History that indicate how women have rightly optimised the available resources and created wonders.
Ancient India had famous women scholars like Leelavati, — a mathematician daughter of Bhaskara II, (1150 AD), Gargi- the natural philosopher, Khana- the astronomer and many others. They were conferred with titles like ‘Vidushi’ (intellectual woman) and ‘Brahmavadini’ (expounder of Ved — the books of knowledge), and Akka Mahadevi a prominent figure of female emancipation from present-day Karnataka. However, somewhere along the way, India entered a dark period (due to invasions and intrusions), dominated by discrimination against women, and they were relegated to domestic roles.
Finally, in 1944, India recovered its glory and found its first female scientist in the form of Dr Asima Chatterjee, an acclaimed chemist. From Dr Anandi Joshi to Dr Aditi Pant, today India has some brilliant female scientists — Dr Shubha Tole, Dr Tessy Thomas, the female scientists (involved in ISRO’s Chandrayaan-2 mission), and so on.
We, as a united world, are on the path of reaching a new high in recognising professionals without the need to mention their genders. However, there remains a gap that can be filled by bringing equality of opportunity to women in the field of science. A step forward to highlighting the scientific contributions by exemplary women scientists, honouring them, and celebrating ‘a day of their own’, promises a future we all want to experience.
By Shuchita Soman
[The author is pursuing Doctorate of Philosophy - Neuropharmacology (National Centre for Biological Sciences - Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Bangalore, Karnataka).]