Last week, I watched the movie, “Radioactive” on Amazon Prime. It’s a biography of Madam Curie, the only woman to win Nobel Prize, twice in two different subjects. I was fascinated to know her life story and couldn’t believe that such a powerful and intelligent woman existed in this planet more than 100 years ago! This is an utter failure of my society that her story was not told to me before! Well, if I had known her works and her personality as a teenager, I am sure I could have been shaped up into a better woman much earlier! Instead, the media and society told me stories of young girls whose life was meant to woo a macho man and settle down into marriage and give birth to his children! Well, 99% of women of my generation followed that path and even believed that women are lesser intelligent beings and men are stronger, mightier, more intelligent than us! We now know what a fallacy that belief is! Regarding intelligence, several studies on brain functions have proven that there are no sex differences in the human brain. More on that in another article! Coming back to the topic of this article, my mind kept asking this question: Why are women invisible in mainstream acknowledgement? To even think that it took Hollywood around 90 years after her death to make a biography of Madam Curie, simply points to the careless attitude of our media and society so far towards women’s accomplishments! The only satisfaction is that its better late than never!
Now, thinking about how to make a difference, I always believe, it starts with each of us! Personally, I have taken the responsibility of ensuring that we present women role models to the next generation of girls and boys. Shesight magazine is one avenue through which we share 1000s of stories of women achievers to the world. Also, at Prayaana, we conduct 100s of events where we invite women speakers and many of them gets a first-time opportunity to speak. I believe, this “first time” then translates into confidence for future events!
Another thing I do is this: every time I get a poster of an event forwarded to me, I look for women speakers in it. If I find at least one woman, I am happy. But, if I find an all-men event, I normally contact the organizer and raise the issue. Well, this has been my routine for the past several years and its an irony that even now we are continuing to be blind towards women achievers. Most event organizers say that they inadvertently missed inviting women and it was not intentional. But the issue here is that we need to be intentional and conscious when it comes to gender equity. For hundreds of years this inadvertent mistake has happened and the perils of which will need at least another 130 years to solve!
Now, let me give you some statistics.
In a study conducted by an independent researcher Sandi Macpherson analyzing events at BayArea for Technology Women Speakers, she found that only 25% of speakers are women. Well, if this is the case with Silicon Valley where there are a high number of accomplished women professionals, you can easily imagine the state of affairs in other countries and domains! In most events, the ratio still remains 1:10.
Now, let me also give you another study: a discussion paper from London School of Economics’ Centre for Economic Performance that had collected data on more than 12,000 economics seminars from fall 2018 through 2020. “The analysis found that while the number of daylong events where speakers were invited to present and meet with students and faculty fell by about 12 percent as they shifted online, the composition of speakers changed significantly to include more women. The increase was even more pronounced when participants would have had to travel far distances to attend in person”, said the study’s author, Marcus Biermann, a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute of Economic and Social Research at the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium.
On one side, we hear inequalities and on the other side, we hear opportunities to better it! The above study points us to the immense opportunity that online events provide to bring more gender equity and opportunities to ensure women’s participation in key decision-making arenas or conferences.
But what is more important is not the solution or fixes, but the intent. How are we inclined to ensure equality in everything that we do? Do we think thoroughly who we are missing out when we are doing something? Do we ensure that we have sufficient representation from all types of people who might be relevant to that project? Well, this is not easy. But not impossible either. All it needs is an eye to see the surroundings. An eye which sees the amazing yet invisible women around us!
And let me tell you, this is an important step towards a sustainable future. And why this is important? Because we want young girls (and boys) to know that women are indeed leaders and showcasing such women role models helps them understand it better. I do not want the kids of this generation to keep saying the names of scientists they know as “Newton” and “Einstein” and forget about “Marie Curie”. I want our kids to also know about Ada Lovelace, Katharine Johnson, Shakunthala Devi, Janaki Ammal, Kamala Sohonie and many others! This is not just about Science, but also about all walks of life – be it arts, literature, sports, business, politics, media, academia and everywhere!
Dear world – let’s find the invisible women and make them visible!