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Votes for Women

This Project is about History, Science, widening opportunities and about building Bridges. Here in Britain we have just celebrated the right of women to vote. Surely this is one of the most historic and empowering in our social history.

100 years of sufferage

The Bridge records historical events as if they are in the present tense, today saw the centenary of women getting the vote in UK, an occasion which we at the Bridge cant ignore.

an article in the Guardian newspaper describes the current questions regarding womens equality

Why are so few women publishing scientific papers? It is a question that has been posed by New Scientist magazine, as it reports that in medicine, female authorship of scientific papers has started to go backwards. Since 2009, the proportion of women as lead authors has gone down.

Findings such as these usually provoke a cry of “We need more women in science!” and organisations wheel out a spokesperson to explain that girls should be encouraged to study science at university. The Welsh government, for example, celebrated International Women’s Day this way.

But while this is a fantastic way to persuade science funding bodies to reach into their pockets, it just doesn’t fit with the evidence. The quiet truth is this: women are doing science. And not only “more women than ever before”, as the New Scientist puts it. In fact, in lots of scientific disciplines women outnumber men.

Enough talk. There are ways we can help women in science now

Athene Donald

Don’t believe me? Recent data from the UK’s Higher Education Statistics Agency(although not available online, I requested the gender breakdown from its press office) shows that 69% of students studying medical technology-related degrees are women, as are 86% of those studying degrees in polymers. A whopping 77% of students studying veterinary science are female. The figure for psychology is even higher at 79%. The majority of students studying degrees in anthropology (72%); ophthalmics (69%); anatomy, physiology and pathology (64%); zoology (63%); forensic and archaeological sciences (61%); and pharmacology, toxicology and pharmacy (61%) are female.

More women than men study clinical dentistry (59%); clinical medicine (55%); biology (58%); molecular biology, biophysics and biochemistry (54%); archaeology (56%); and “agriculture and related subjects” (67%). The story is the same in subjects such as genetics (57%) and microbiology (56%). For programmes classed as “broadly based programmes in medicine and dentistry”, the percentage of female students is even higher, at 76%. There may be more women studying full-time degrees across the board (54%), but there is still an undeniably strong female bias in science subjects.

If there are so many women studying medical subjects, how do we explain the sudden decline in female authorship in medical journals since 2009?

This is unlikely to be simply about the number of women studying medicine. Women have accounted for more than half of all new medical students since the 1990s. Today, even at postgraduate level, 64% of students studying medical and dentistry subjects are female.

Instead of discussing gender bias, the New Scientist blames the “choice” to have a family. It points to a study in this month’s American Economic Review that shows women incurring earnings penalties in science if they have children. A recent House of Commons science and technology committee report goes into more detail, saying that scientific research careers are dominated by short-term contracts with poor job security – at the very time of life that women need to have children (if they want them). The female postdoctoral scientist faces difficult decisions while stuck on fixed-term contracts before tenure, with very little in the way of institutional support. Women should not have to choose between career and family, says the science magazine. But surely male scientists face similar choices?

Peterlee SR8 1AU, UK

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