Science Diplomacy Advances Women and Girls in India

April 7, 2012
Astronaut Sunita Williams Speaks With Girls in India

Indian officials cited U.S. science diplomacy as a reason why the 99th Indian Science Congress (ISC) chose to focus on women in science. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh emphasized the crucial role of science in India's development to the nearly 20,000 energized attendees, which included several Nobel laureates. India's Ambassador to the United States Nirupama Rao enthusiastically launched India's first Women Science Congress as a concurrent event.

In a striking parallel to Secretary Clinton's declaration that women's rights is essential to our national security, Ambassador Rao's keynote speech at the Women's Science Congress declared that providing opportunities for women in science and is crucial for India's development. Ambassador Rao also stressed the importance of education for women by stating, "You educate a mother, she educates the family." From now on, according to Ambassador Rao, India's Women's Science Congress will be an annual event highlighting the outstanding achievements of women scientists and the challenges they face. This recognition of the status and accomplishments of Indian women in a rapidly changing society reflects the positive influence of U.S. policies and U.S. Embassy New Delhi's efforts in recent years to promote gender equality as well as the Indian government's own interest in this issue.

While Indian women are still seriously underrepresented in the scientific professions and leadership and face numerous challenges, the Indian government now commits to encouraging women to pursue education in scientific, technological, and engineering fields, and to promoting and retaining women in science careers. The Indian government recognizes that science and technology are essential in bringing underprivileged Indian women and their families into the rapidly-growing Indian economy. U.S. Embassy New Delhi has tapped into this commitment to help advance a positive environment for women scientists.

Recognizing that science is essential to empowerment in this knowledge century, the Embassy New Delhi team has given unwavering and unequivocal support to promoting gender equality in science studies. One example is our annual Women in Science (WIS) workshops that we have held since 2009. These workshops helped inspire the launch of the Women's Science Congress and the theme of the landmark 2012 Indian Science Conference "Science and Technology for Inclusive Innovation -- Role of Women."

Recent developments in India's gender polices are another example of the impact the U.S.-India WIS workshops. Participants at one U.S.-India WIS workshop talked about how they had to leave careers for family reasons, and later found it difficult to resume their careers. Indian officials attending our workshop later rolled-out a policy to address this issue through special contractual positions for women scientists who were forced to relocate for family reasons and enhanced support for women scientists re-entering the workforce after career interruptions.

One of our personal favorite moments from the U.S.-India WIS workshops occurred in September 2011, when Indian-American astronaut Sunita Williams joined us for an interactive session. Many Indian girls consider Commander Williams a role model and were thrilled to hear her speak about her experiences and answer their questions. The audience repeatedly broke into spontaneous applause as the Commander spoke. The biggest applause came when she said the earth looked borderless from outer space.

Earlier last year, in July, Secretary Clinton and Indian Foreign Minister Krishna highlighted the role of women scientists at the annual U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue, and it was a central topic in discussions between Under Secretary of State Maria Otero and Ambassador Rao earlier last year. As a result of the emphasis placed on women and science in our bilateral engagement, India co-sponsored with the United States and Brazil a special session on women in science during the UN Commission on the Status of Women in New York in 2011. India assigned two prominent women scientists to speak on the importance the Indian government places on science as the most effective tool for developing India and empowering Indian women, and India now wants women in science as part of the Joint Commission Meeting on Science and Technology that Washington will host prior to the bilateral Strategic Dialogue in June 2012.

Secretary Clinton eloquently articulated the importance of promoting gender equality in recent policy guidance and testimony before Congress. U.S. Embassy New Delhi and the Secretary's Office of Global Women's Issues have been unstintingly working to advance the status of women and girls as a priority element of our bilateral engagement with India. Science diplomacy has proven to be a powerful tool for advancing the status of women and girls in India. We are proud of the impact it has already had, and look forward to achieving even greater goals in the future.

About the Authors: Mark Templer serves as Science and Technology Officer and Noopur Singh serves as a Science and Technology Specialist at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, India.



April 7, 2012

Baholeyankumar in India writes:


April 18, 2012

G. Galloway writes:

I am excited to learn that prominent Indian government officials are finally acknowledging the value of women to the field of science. I am also very pleased with Hillary Clinton’s global efforts in advocating for women’s rights. As emphasized by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, science will have an integral role in improving India’s status as a developing country. In India, the demand for science professionals is rising as the country attempts to move its citizens into twenty-first century medicine and technology. I am also excited to learn that Rhao believes that women are an excellent source of untapped resources for talent and that women have an important part to play in strengthening India’s economy. By providing Indian women with the mentoring and educational opportunities necessary for them to advance their careers in science-related fields, initiatives such as the Women’s Science Congress will help the country further bridge its achievement gap between male and female scientists and science students. Hopefully, by highlighting the value of women in the workforce, India can serve as a model for other developing countries that are struggling to include women their economies and workforces.


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