Report on women scientists in Central and Eastern Europe shows women still 'misused by society'

February 3, 2004

Brussels, 02 Feb 2004

A report on the situation of women scientists in Central and Eastern Europe and the Baltic States has revealed that in spite of statistics illustrating that women are very active in research, they are often concentrated in areas where funding is the lowest, and are unlikely to reach the top positions in their fields.

'There is a high level of professionalism. Women are advancing. But there is still a surprisingly low representation of women in the top positions. There is still a glass ceiling,' Hana Havelková, a sociologist and Assistant Professor at the Charles University in Prague, told CORDIS News. 'Women are still misused by society, even in this 'intelligent' profession. They are doing all the hard work, but are invisible,' she added.

The evidence for these assertions is contained in the Enwise (enlarge women in science to East) report, requested by the European Commission as a follow-up to a similar report addressing the situation of women scientists within the EU. The Enwise expert group was chaired by Ene Ergma, President of the Estonian Parliament and one of the vice presidents of the Estonian Academy of Sciences, as well as senior scientists from academies, universities, research institutes, and business.

The report concludes that women account for 38 per cent of the scientific workforce in the Central and Eastern European countries (CEECs) and the Baltic States, although the majority of these women work in areas of low expenditure. In academia, women constitute over half of teaching staff (54 per cent), but men remain three times more likely to reach senior academic positions.

In geographic terms, the proportion of women scientists is higher in the countries with the smallest research populations and the lowest research expenditure per capita. This implies that women are squeezed out of research when competition becomes stronger on account of increased funding.

'We are aware that more funding will bring with it more competition - more men - and will have an impact on women's positions,' explained Professor Havelková. 'We have to watch how the funding is distributed, and to make sure that women aren't pushed out,' she told CORDIS News. She also called for more transparency; not only with regard to the distribution of funding, but also selection and evaluation criteria.

Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin welcomed the report, although described some of the ratios as 'a little worrying'. He voiced his admiration for the data concerning the Framework Programmes, which revealed that women from the Enwise countries outnumbered women from the EU in all areas: project participation, experts in database, evaluators.

Mr Busquin also announced that the Commission will support a new centre dedicated to women and science in Prague, the Czech Republic, and declared the Commission's willingness to support similar initiatives in other countries.

Chair of the Enwise expert group, Ene Ergma, welcomed the catalytic effect that the report will have on the countries involved: 'This was a very important initiative by the Commission. Sometimes you need an outside push. The Enwise countries are mainly interested in developing a market economy, and gender problems often seem less important. I hope that in another five years we will not be discussing the problem of low gender awareness in my country.'

All participants at the presentation of the report on 30 January emphasised that women do not need special treatment. 'In the Framework Programmes, the criteria is excellence, not gender,' said Mr Busquin. 'Cohesion is fostered, but it's not the criteria.' There was general agreement that what women scientists need is to be given equal opportunities.

Professor Ergma issued a stark warning to the European Commission regarding the creation of a European Research Area (ERA). 'If we are losing the 50 to 60 per cent of women with a higher education [in the Enwise countries], we will not be successful in creating an ERA,' she said. 'This is a waste of talent.'

The report illustrates how and why the situation for women in the CEECs and the Baltic States is different to that of their counterparts in the EU. 'Communism propagated the idea that there was gender equality. Women believed they were not being discriminated against,' said Professor Havelková. The transition following the end of the Cold War has led to a very complex situation in terms of gender equality, she explained.

'More research is needed to define the problem. It's a culture which is both modern and traditional. Women are clearly coming forward. They do not want to suffer everything, which is illustrated by the fact that there is an increasing number of divorces, and primarily at the woman's instigation. But they still take on traditional roles and responsibilities. It's a different setting. Women are not just backward or forward or enlightened or anything else. It's much more complex,' Professor Havelková summarised. To access the report, please visit: ce-society/highlights_en.html

For further information on the candidate countries and the Framework Programmes, please consult the following web address:

CORDIS RTD-NEWS / © European Communities

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