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Year : 2019  |  Volume : 67  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 6--16

Women in the neurosciences

Department of Neurosurgery, Jaslok Hospital and Research Centre, Dr. G.V. Deshmukh Marg, Mumbai, Maharashtra, India

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Sunil K Pandya
Department of Neurosurgery, Jaslok Hospital and Research Centre, Dr. G.V. Deshmukh Marg, Mumbai, Maharashtra
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0028-3886.253584

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The term 'scientist' was coined to describe Mary Somerville (1780-1872) as her contributions to astronomy commanded recognition of her excellence in science. Up to then, the term 'man of science' had been in use. In fields traditionally considered the province of males, the entry of women was viewed with consternation, apprehension and alarm. Resistance was instinctive in most leading scientists. This attitude was strengthened by illogical and pseudoscientific statements on the frailty of women. The pioneers blazing trails in medicine for their sisters to follow braved ridicule, hostility, and discrimination. At times they used subterfuge. The example of Dr. James Barry (Margaret Ann Bulkley) is well-known. Thanks to them, we now have nationally and internationally eminent scientists from the gentler sex, and some of them in commanding positions. The neurosciences developed in India as a result of the efforts made by pioneer neurosurgeons such as Drs. Jacob Chandy (Vellore), B. Ramamurthi (Madras), R.G. Ginde (Bombay), Dr. Prakash N. Tandon (New Delhi) and neurophysicians such as Drs. Baldev Singh (New Delhi), T.K. Ghosh (Calcutta) and Noshir H. Wadia (Mumbai). They and others such as Drs. V.R. Khanolkar, Darab K. Dastur, B.K. Bachhawat and Obaid Siddiqui encouraged individuals like Dr. Vimla Virmani, Dr. Devika Nag, Dr. T.S. Kanaka and Dr. Gourie Devi in the clinical neurosciences and Drs. Kamal Ranadive, V.S. Lalitha, Veronica Rodrigues and Gomathy Gopinath in the basic neurosciences. Two eminent neuroscientists from abroad (Drs. Nancy Kopell and Indira Raman), and three from India (Drs. Vijaylakshmi Ravindranath, Chitra Sarkar and Vidita Vaidya) have been chosen by me as representatives and their careers, contributions and views on discrimination against women in science discussed in brief. (This is not to deny outstanding work by others but limitations of space have made this choice necessary.) The factors favouring the blossoming of women in science include encouraging and stimulating parents, a conducive environment at home and mentors. A compelling drive to excel, hard work and sincerity are crucial to success. Nasty forms of experiences demoralise women. Sexual harassment by seniors and colleagues in the laboratory and elsewhere can lead to the victim leaving the field altogether. Discrimination in selection, promotion and publication lower morale and impact output in terms of research and contributions to journals and books. Suggestions made by the five eminent neuroscientists named above to liberate women from such negative behaviour by males are presented. The Indian Women Scientists' Association is playing an important role in helping their members, making their work known to society and generally empowering them. Since unity strengthens, collaborative activities with other similar organisations will augment efficacy. One such organisation is the much older Association of Medical Women of India.


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