China launches priority policies to support female researchers

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail by Zhang Weilan, September 18, 2023
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Since 2010, the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) has launched a series of measures to support female researchers, which have been widely recognized by the scientific and technological community, Yu Xuan and Gao Ruiping, researchers of NSFC, noted in an article released by the Bulletin of Chinese Academy of Sciences (BCAS, in Chinese), a think tank journal supervised and sponsored by the CAS, which focuses on strategic and decision-making research.

Such measures include providing project funding for women researchers, reducing the age limit for breastfeeding female applicants, attracting more female scientific researchers to participate in the peer review and funding decision-making during the review process, and promoting female scientific and technological talent to participate in scientific and technological management and major policy consultation.

“The purpose of implementing the preferential policy is to better support female scientists in conducting scientific research, to make up for the relatively disadvantaged status, to facilitate the career development, and to stimulate the research vitality of female researchers,” as the article articulates.

Despite the higher proportion of women in higher education and expanded scale, optimized structure, and improved capability of female research teams, women’s educational advantages do not translate into the academic labor market, and high-level female scientists are particularly scarce, as studies reveal.

With the aim of promoting gender equality and combating discrimination in the field of science and technology, the international community has done a lot to narrow the gender gap and encourage more women to enter the scientific field and play a more significant role in technological innovation. Some countries have specifically introduced relevant laws, regulations, and policy systems for women in science and technology. For example, South Korea introduced the Act on Fostering and Supporting Women Scientists and Technicians in 2002, and has legally formulated a basic plan for nurturing and supporting women every five years starting from 2004.

For years, significant achievements have also been made in China in raising the awareness of gender equality in the field of science and technology. In 2011, the Ministry of Science and Technology and the All-China Women’s Federation jointly issued a guideline specifying some suggestions on strengthening the construction of female researcher workforce in a variety of aspects.

In early 2010, for the first time, the opinions of the NSFC project review explicitly proposed that in the review of projects, the funding policy should prioritize female researchers under equal conditions. After the gradual implementation of the female priority policy in 2011, the number of female researchers who applied for and obtained funded projects, as well as the rate of receiving funding, have increased, and the participation of female researchers in scientific research has been significantly enhanced, with a noticeable improvement in securing funding.

The article points out that the female-oriented policies introduced by the NSFC have demonstrated unique advantages, such as directness in supporting female researchers’ growth, wide policy coverage, extensive impact, and strong demonstration and guiding effects. These policies have received positive responses from the majority of female researchers, and have achieved significant results in helping female researchers overcome obstacles, creating a favorable environment for their career development, and promoting the growth and development of female researchers at all levels.

Supporting the growth of female researchers is a long-term and complex social system task, which requires the joint efforts of the government, the scientific community, and the whole society in addition to funding agencies.

The authors put forward some suggestions for supporting the growth of female researchers in the new era.

In the future, it is recommended that China strengthen the top-level design in the field of science and technology and further enrich and improve the policy and regulation system for supporting female scientists. The country needs to provide more incentives for female scientists to undertake high-level and major projects, investigate the feasibility of further lowering the age restrictions for female applicants for high-level projects, and protect the environment for the growth and development of female scientists through policy measures.

The authors also suggest that we should publicize the image of female scientists who can balance their careers and family life in a truthful and comprehensive manner. It is important to publicize both outstanding female scientists and ordinary female researchers, leveraging the power of role models to awaken women’s self-awareness and their self-worth.

In addition to creating a favorable institutional environment, exerting the exemplary role of female scientists, and encouraging women to actively engage in scientific research, we should encourage female scientific and technological workers to be more self-esteemed, self-confident, self-reliant, and self-improved.

As the paper concludes, gender is not a dividing line for research capabilities. Women’s unique thinking and perspective are indispensable and important elements in scientific and technological innovation. With the development of the times and the further refinement of the social division of labor, the advantages of women in scientific research work will have gradually emerged. More and more outstanding female scientists are emerging, and women's scientific research abilities and achievements are constantly being affirmed and recognized.

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