In Focus

WOMEN IN SCIENCE: Is Bangladesh ahead of the West?

If you are worried about the dearth of women in science in Bangladesh, think again. There are more girls studying science than you may be aware of. For instance, in Dhaka University, about 30-40 percent students in physics and chemistry are female. In the biological sciences and medical education, the number is an astonishing 60 percent. In Jahangirnagar University, the percentage of female students in physics is about 35 percent. Elsewhere in the country in Rajshahi University, in the physical sciences, 26 percent students and 14 percent teachers are women. In the biological sciences, the percentages are even higher -- 47 and 16 respectively.

The notion that women do not do well in the physical sciences is a fallacy, according to senior professors and students of at least three of the public universities mentioned above. They say more women are studying science at the university level in Bangladesh than in the US, Japan, the UK and other European countries. And they excel in physics, chemistry, maths and biological sciences securing top positions in both undergraduate and graduate levels. They are more focused than their male counterparts in research despite facing many barriers. 

But they do not receive the recognition even after doing exceptionally well. According to a professor of physics at Dhaka University, women in scientific professions face discrimination in terms of recruitment, promotion and retention. Barriers that limit women's entry to careers in science include lack of grants and funding, balancing family and career, deeply ingrained gender bias, scarcity of job openings, lack of mentors and role models, child care support, laboratory space and lack of confidence. Women have to work twice as hard as men to show that they are equally competent.

Why is this remarkable accomplishment of women in Bangladesh little known to the public? What has caused the false myth of girls' intrinsic unsuitability for science? 


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