Wasted talents: the situation of women scientists in Eastern European countries

February 2, 2004

Brussels, 30 January 2004

European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin today welcomed a new report on the situation of women scientists in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe and the Baltic States. The report concludes that women account for 38% of the scientific workforce in the Central and Eastern European Countries and the Baltic States (the Enwise countries (1) ), but this statistic conceals some bitter truths: a large proportion of female scientists is employed in areas where R&D expenditure is lowest. Inadequate resources and poor infrastructure impede the progress of a whole generation of promising scientists. Men are three times more likely to reach senior academic positions than women. In this rather gloomy picture, however, there is a positive sign: women scientists from the Enwise countries participate significantly in the European Union's Framework Programme. The Commission welcomes this fact, as the Framework Programme is a strategic tool to reinforce research capacities and the participation of women in research.

"The human resource potential of women scientists from the post-communist candidate countries is a key asset for the European Research Area", says European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin. "The Enwise report shows that we can capitalize much better on the skills of female researchers. We need further action to advance the agenda for women in science in a wider Europe. At the same time, women scientists of the Enwise countries must be given the chance to play their part in the European Research Area."

The main findings of the report presented by the Enwise Expert Group, chaired by the President of the Estonian Parliament, Professor Ene Ergma, are:

Societal transitions

The Enwise report shows how the situation of women scientists today results from several dynamics: equal opportunities for women, egalitarianism and transitions in the research systems. In pre-communist times, women in these countries had access to education and political rights, well in advance of the western European countries. During the communist regime, gender equality was considered a by-product of egalitarianism, and therefore no special consideration was given to gender. Research policies in the communist regimes were geared towards defence research and the establishment of a rational socialist society.

The transition to the market economy induced dramatic changes in research, and having lost its earlier rationale, it is still looking for its new "raison d'être". In this climate of change, the position of women is relatively strong in quantitative terms, but weak in qualitative terms.

Women scientists concentrate where there is no money for R&D

The report shows that even in the countries where the overall presence of women and men as researchers is fairly balanced, there are gender differences in the concentrations across the various R&D sectors and fields of science, whereby women are squeezed out of competitive, high-expenditure R&D systems, but absorbed into struggling low-expenditure systems as a kind of 'back-up' human resource. In geographic terms, the proportion of women is higher in the countries with the smallest research populations and the lowest R&D expenditure per capita (the Baltic States, Bulgaria and Romania). These findings demonstrate that the challenge of gender equality in scientific research goes hand in hand with the strengthening of research capacities. Gender equality has to be built into the reinforcement of the research effort in the Enwise countries.

The report also provides some powerful insights into the day-to-day working situations of women scientists in the Enwise countries. Women are still under-represented at the top positions in academies of sciences and in universities. Women constitute the majority of teaching staff (54%), but tend to be concentrated in the lower academic positions. Furthermore, despite the fact that women's participation among university staff is similar to their presence as researchers, men are three times more likely to reach senior academic positions than women.

The strategic issue of the young generation

The report also highlights the typical dilemma facing the younger generation of scientists. Although they have the potential for a research career, social and economic factors as well as structural conditions of the scientific systems prevent them from growing as confirmed scientists, while rearing and raising children.

The EU Research Framework Programme as an opportunity

The Commission welcomes the fact that women scientists from Enwise countries mobilise themselves to take part in the Framework Programme. During the Fifth Framework Programme, women constituted 34% of all evaluators from the Enwise countries, while the respective figure for EU-15 was only 22 %. For the current Sixth Framework Programme, even higher numbers can be expected. The Framework Programme is a strategic tool to reinforce research in the Enwise countries. By encouraging women's participation in the Framework Programme, the Commission wants to promote the role of women in research, together with the reinforcement of research capacities, in order to ensure that the new Member States contribute fully to the European Research Area.

The full report can be found at:

http://europa.eu.int/comm/research/science-society/highlights_en.html

and

http://europa.eu.int/comm/research/science-society/women/wssi/publications_en.html
(1) Enwise stands for Enlarge women in science to the East and concerns Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia.

DN: IP/04/132 Date: 30/01/2004

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