Brussels, 08 Mar 2006
Supporting and assisting women working in science is not a particularly new phenomenon. In fact, there are many organisations and networks around Europe with this mandate. However, if the voices of women scientists are to be heard at European level, these networks need to work together, and to put forward their needs and observations in a succinct and coordinated fashion.
The European Platform of Women Scientists (EPWS) is to do exactly that. The platform is intended to provide a structural link between women scientists and policy makers. 'There has been progress, but there is still a lot to be done. We have to be very aware and constantly introducing the topic [of women in science] and giving a voice to women scientists,' says the Secretary General of EPWS, Maren Jochimsen.
The mandate of the EPWS is to:
- represent with democratic legitimacy and transparent decision-making structures the women scientists of Europe in dialogue with policymakers;
- coordinate EU value-added support activities for women scientists;
- promote the understanding and the inclusion of the gender dimension in science, which includes profiling the work of women scientists;
- network the networks of women scientists and promote networking among women scientists, in particular in Central and Eastern Europe and the private sector.
Before the existing networks can be networked, those behind the platform must first find out what is out there. Questionnaires will be the main tool, and will be sent to research councils around Europe, as well as to existing networks of women scientists. In addition to establishing what networks already exist, the questionnaires will also provide information on the activities of each network, their interests, and what they would like from a pan-European platform.
The platform is receiving funding under the EU's Sixth Framework Programme (FP6), but only for two years. Dr Jochimsen considers this funding as 'seed money', and says that the ultimate success of the project will be the establishment of a permanent body that will receive funding from a number of sources once the initial two-year period of secured funding is over. The platform has already been established as a non-profit organisation under Belgian law, and has its headquarters in Brussels.
Although located in Brussels, Dr Jochimsen is confident that EPWS will not seem distant or out of touch to the women working in labs around Europe. By working through its member networks, the platform will stay closely in touch with the issues affecting women scientists. On the other hand, the success of the platform is reliant to an extent upon its member networks. Dr Jochimsen would like the platform to be legitimised and democratic, but this depends on the networks themselves being democratic, and having elected representatives.
The EU funding is an indicator of how committed the European Commission is to supporting women in science, Dr Jochimsen believes. 'I think the Commission is very serious about this. This manifests itself in them giving the seed money for the platform, and also in the many invitations to events that are sent. I have the feeling that [women scientists'] voices are heard.'
Asked in the context of a recent report claiming that women still get paid less for doing the same jobs as men whether EPWS will look at the question of salaries in science, Dr Jochimsen confirmed that this is one area at which the platform will investigate. However, this is only one of several issues, she added. Others include the positions that women are appointed to, and their access to research funding. 'We have very qualified women scientists,' but it's enabling them to do the work that is sometimes the problem,' Dr Jochimsen told CORDIS News.
This is why networks for women scientists are so important, according to Dr Jochimsen. Many research positions are not advertised publicly, and details of them are passed on through networks. Women are often underrepresented in these networks, sometimes because they are difficult to penetrate, and sometimes because they have different scientific interests.
Asked what measures she will use at the end of the initial two-year period to judge whether or not the platform has been a success, Dr Jochimsen replied: 'That is difficult to answer because the success will be that the platform continues beyond the initial project phase. We aim to manifest the need for a platform among women scientists.'