EUROPE: Parliament calls for more women scientists

The European Parliament has strongly backed a report calling for a bigger role for women in European research and setting out specific initiatives to improve the gender balance. The report Women in Science, drawn up by Danish member of parliament Britta Thomsen, was adopted last month by 416 votes in favour with 75 against and 164 abstentions.

It says that women researchers are outnumbered by men in every area of research and that in general the more senior the level, the worse off women scientists are. Although women account for more than 50% of European students and represent 43% of PhDs, they hold only 15% of senior university posts. Likewise, 35% of researchers in government and public sector programmes are women and only 18% in the private sector.

Thomsen's report calls for a genuine gender balance in the membership of decision-making bodies, the mainstreaming of the male-female dimension in research programmes and support for scientific careers for women among the moves that could lead to an increased number of women scientists. Specifically it calls on the European Commission and the EU member states to ensure that evaluation panels and selection committees consist of at least 40% women and at least 40% men.

The European Platform of Women Scientists strongly welcomed the report, saying that increased participation by women in research was "integrally linked to more excellent, diverse and innovative European research".

Pauline Colligan, EPWS project manager research policy, told UWN that "a more gender-sensitive research environment will go a long way towards finding and retaining the extra 700,000 researchers required to help fulfil the Lisbon Agenda".

European research agendas have traditionally not taken women's specific needs into account but this may have to change if the EU is to make good on its Lisbon strategy which seeks to put the EU at the forefront of global technology by 2010. For instance, the programme calls for investment in R&D to be raised to 3% of GDP by 2010.

This will mean the creation of some 700,000 new research-related jobs by 2010 - which the EPWS said Europe would have trouble filling "as long as half of its population remain sidelined in the science and technology field".

Colligan said that while emphasis would be placed on equal opportunities, "tangible policies must nonetheless be put in place to ensure genuine gender parity in science".