The role of Women in Science, Technology and Development
Dr. A.Q. Khan
With the increasing involvement of technology in the running of a nation, the role of an engineer has become more important and pronounced. Science and technology have become bywords for progress of nations, but women have very little participation in this field. However, for scientific progress to be meaningful, opportunities should be open to all those with talent, without any discrimination of class, colour, creed or gender.
The number of women among our scientists and engineers is abysmally low. As we live in a country where literacy is around 30 to 35% and in which the rate of female literacy is even lower, one would hardly expect anything different. Gender inequity is a fact of life worldwide and it is worse still in our society. There are several factors affecting the influx of females in any profession. These include 1) the social acceptance (or lack thereof) of that particular profession; 2) family pressures at the time of career selection; 3) discrimination during studies and at places of work; 4) fewer job opportunities; 5) exposure and encouragement to the work done by women already in the field. All these issues are of a critical nature and merit our urgent attention.
There is also the feeling that investing in women’s education or jobs is wasteful as most of them leave the field to run a family and that funds would be better utilized in providing opportunities to men, who would stay in the field longer. Let me here state my firm belief that, being a woman is by no means a handicap in the field of engineering. In the modern world, the engineering profession is not only about getting down to the field and getting your hands dirty. With the advances made, it is now possible to sit at home and communicate with the world. Modern means of communication have created the concept of a global village. As a result, there has been a restructuring in recent times in the nature of jobs available to women. The job environment can be chosen by a woman, without any drawbacks to the organization concerned, which can enable her to comfortably blend her professional and personal life.
Pakistan is a developing nation; one of the Third World countries. It is no longer possible to leave one half of our population out of our developing process. It is no longer a matter of choice. Economic realities make this an imperative issue, one to be dealt with immediately. Women’s contributions in scientific fields do not correspond to their capabilities and potential. The engineering field in particular lacks women’s participation. There is no reason why they should not prove their talent in the engineering sciences, especially when they are as intelligent and innovative as their male counterparts. We have to raise awareness through mass media campaigns about the importance of women’s contributions in the field of engineering sciences and technology. The enrolment of girls in educational institutions should be increased by giving them incentives such as scholarships to defray the costs incurred to their parents. Women have all the potentials to outperform men and scale any heights. All they have to do is to be more assertive in demanding recognition for their efforts. Women have played a remarkable role in shaping the destiny of nations. Our religion and culture emphasizes the participation of women in every field of life.
The role of science and technology in the progress of mankind cannot be over-emphasized. In fact, history has just been another name for the scientific evolution that human society has gone through. It transformed society from a prehistoric, matriarchal one to an agrarian one that, when hit by the industrial revolution, gave way to present-day modernism and now we have reached the doorstep of the information revolution, which the world is currently experiencing. Throughout these stages there is little gainsaying the fact that only science and technology proved to be the two agents of change and the harbingers of modification. Unfortunately, we are not fully utilizing the talents of our female population in this process.
All this clearly demonstrates that no strategy for progress and prosperity can be thought of unless it is envisioned, tailored and then executed by employing science and technology. However, it is ironic to see that, throughout the Muslim World, science and technology have never hit the priority list of our policy makers. Although many leaders in the Muslim World find it attractive to mention their commitment to science and technology, it has, by and large, remained mere lip service for the sake of political expediency, while the spirit has always been missing. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that, despite possessing an immense pool of resources (including qualified women), the Ummah by and large is still waiting for the fruits of the technological revolution to reach it. A lacking education system, dearth of research and lack of infrastructure have all joined hands to block our march towards progress. Disappointing literacy rates, lack of employment opportunities and economic catastrophes are, unfortunately, all too familiar to us, which, in turn, have affected the participation of women scientists in national development.
Industries can play a vital role in solving the crucial issue of women’s participation. If they can change their way of thinking and be a little more accommodating in hiring and retaining women engineers and make a conscious effort to look into, and solve, the problems faced by women in this profession, then they would be assisting in taking our nation one step further on the road to success and development. There is no reason why women, possessing all the required attributes, intelligence and innovation, should not come forward and play their role in the field of engineering. What we need to do is to inculcate awareness and mobilize the will of women to acquire an engineering education and to play their due role in the development of mankind in general and our nation in particular. While in charge of Kahuta, I had specifically employed and encouraged many young female professionals to contribute to our important work.