Updated: Feb 16
Hemangi Gurjar, [2nd year BA LLB student at NMIMS Kirit P Mehta School of Law]
More than being half of the world’s total population, women are half of the world’s potential, a potential that still largely remains untapped and unpolished, and that is primarily owing to the lack of education opportunities provided to them. Women and their education have been a long-standing debate, a fight, and even a war at times. Countless women, men, and others have dedicated their lives to the cause. People like Malala risked their lives to emphasize the importance of education for girls and many still continue to fight for it. Even if girls are enrolled in school, many drop out, many do not get the adequate facilities that might help them achieve their full potential and many do not get to pursue higher studies.
While the world has witnessed some change in the matter and 180 million more girls have enrolled in primary and secondary education since 1995, the other side of this data shows that worldwide, 129 million girls are out of school indicating a vast gap in women’s education. This gap is further reflected in the workforce where only 38.8% of the total labour force is women.
This means fewer women at senior and even middle management positions and even fewer who establish a name in academics by receiving awards like the Nobel prize. Of a total of 972 Nobel Prizes awarded as of October 2021, only 58 were received by women, which is 5.967% over the last 121 years. There are 16 women among the 118 literature prizes and 17 women among the 135 peace prize winners. Twelve women have won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, out of a total of 224 laureates, and seven women have won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, out of a total of 188 laureates. Only four women have received the Nobel Prize in Physics since 1901, out of 219 laureates. Women make up 3% of science category winners, excluding 2021 STEM recipients, who were all men, however, they were virtually usually given alongside male peers. Only 23 women have won a Nobel in science out of over 600 awards since 1901. The few women who have won Nobel Prizes in science have broken down walls and broken down sigma in their disciplines to make some of the most important discoveries of the last century, facing barriers that their male colleagues never had to give a thought to.
Coming to the reasons behind the disheartening statistics, the gender gap that exists between men and women globally is something that is very well established and is known to all. This gap even deepens when we look at the number of women in medicine, physics, chemistry, and even law. While there is an increase in the number of women represented in research, there remains a persistent gender discrepancy in the highest tiers of these streams. This mainly occurs because a lot of mechanisms that are set up to motivate women to pursue diverse and niche careers are introduced to them when they are well within their respective fields of interests or studying a particular branch by happenstance. All the help if given, is to women who have mostly covered a significant part of their academics, which means it is too late for them to consider a switch. Another rampant reason remains that boys do not have to face the obstacles, discrimination, and sexism that girls have to. Women, at a later stage, have had to turn down countless good opportunities because they have to take the lion’s share of childcare and housework. Girls receive less encouragement to pursue subjects that might require higher studies and specializations and are more likely to be underconfident and under-estimate themselves. Perceptions of people have also played a major role in the current scenario of things where certain positions are pictured to be held by males only. For example, students have historically looked at a physicist and seen middle-aged men, and that’s the perception of what a physicist is. All of this does affect the way things evolve and move forward. There are countless reasons as to why the majority of women still remain at the bottom of the ladder.
A change in the way things are perceived is required, and also the structure needs to evolve itself to help young women choose science and streams like law and medicine from a young age. Girls should be made aware of the paths they can follow and the streams they can explore. But it should certainly not be limited to just that. They should also be made aware of the current scenarios and the challenges they will face if they take up a particular field and how they can overcome it. They need to know the scope, the success but also the harsh realities of the fields so they can be prepared to take up challenges head-on and not be startled by them on the way. Without the shadow of a doubt, the potential women hold can change the world but it just needs to be tapped efficiently.