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Will the next Einstein be a woman?

Tuesday June 26, 2012 03:43:56 PM, M. Mustufa Khan



Why shouldn’t she be the next Einstein? Unlike the Harvard University President Larry Summers, who disturbed a hornets’ nest by making his notorious remark of biological determination of gender inequality as cause of women’s lower performance in math and science, I would interrogate anyone with a pat answer of my own.

Women go through more changes in life due to circumstances in addition to the biological shifts than do men. Some of the circumstances are easier to overcome for men. A man may appear to make greater sacrifices for science than the woman. But if you look closer, women’s sacrifices are no less daunting.

Dr. Ansari Zubaida was in physics department of the University of Pune. She developed her presentation of a theory of physics at a Rome conference much quicker than her male counterparts. Shortly before Abdul Kalam became the President of India, he visited the university and saw her research and was very impressed. She was single and worked day and night. She could not get a tenured job.


Dr. Zubaida Ansari

Dr. Ansari Zubaida was in physics department of the University of Pune. She developed her presentation of a theory of physics at a Rome conference much quicker than her male counterparts. Shortly before Abdul Kalam became the President of India, he visited the university and saw her research and was very impressed. She was single and worked day and night. She could not get a tenured job.

At her instance, I spoke to her guide and head that if she had a definite job she could go for marriage and settlement in life. After all, she had worked some nine years there. He pleaded for patience as the reservation policy as well as contractual nature of work was coming in the way. In the next visit to the university, I found that she had got a job in South Korea as a scientist! What is her prospect of marriage in Korea?

A man in her place would have married a woman in India with lot of dowry and taken her on his foreign assignment. Can Zubaida take a husband like that and make him work in the house as a homemaker? Almost like the ace software computer engineer from Bangalore whom I met in Chidambaram who was making 25 lakh rupees a year and wondered if she would get a husband who could earn more and take her as she was, regaling in her executive aura!

Summers’ reasons for favouring men include the extreme sacrifices men make, their “intrinsic aptitude” and women being victims of age old discrimination. What intrinsic aptitude do you find in Zubaida, born and brought up in a wretchedly poor and backward neighborhood of Malegaon? She had to wear a veil and would resist the pressure of the conservation surroundings, but would never let go her hold on her subject. It belies the assumptions of Summers.

Sania Mirza refused to wear a bikini or remove her nose ring, and yet she is rising because of sheer hard work. There is also the factor of motivation which determines your career rather than your gender. Many girls from Kerala are better motivated to seek jobs of nurses in foreign countries and score higher grades over girls from other states. Girls from Iceland take math and science and go to university because a degree from there is a ticket to the outside world, while boys in Iceland would go to the ocean to make their fortune by fishing. Pat Galloway, Kentucky, US, took a degree in civil engineering and while she was going to be lowered by a crane into the shaft of a tunnel the male driver of the crane swung it wildly on purpose to frighten her. Pat gave him her pat reply that she had more daring swings in the amusement parks!

The woman has a tremendous hidden potential to change the world. But the patriarchy and the skewed world have never given her due.

The first international conference on women was held under the aegis of the United Nations in Mexico City in 1975. Even after coming into force of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), women continue to be subjected to violence and other forms of abuse.

In any cataclysmic change like the breakup of former Soviet Unionor the massive bombardment and occupation of Iraq, the woman suffered most. Women had security of job and equal pay in the former Soviet Union Since 1991 there are 70 percent women unemployed there. The women of Iraq before the occupation by the US were the proud torch bearers of equality in a region that was still medieval in social life. They had jobs in all the departments of government and private business and had no compulsion of wearing a veil, either.

Now they are at the mercy of male chauvinism. Fathers are marrying off their young daughters to rich elder men, who already have wives, in order to ward off starvation of their girls. But the woman has the potential to change all this indeed, war would disappear if women have their say.

You have to see around and you have the Mayor of Pimpri-Chinwad Municipal Corporation, Anita Pharande. On noticing that people carried weapons like knives and pistols into general meetings. She asked the Commissioner to stop them from carrying arms. This created a furor, even her own party men opposed her position. The result is marvelous. Everyone has to pass through metal detector! In such a situation there would be no war like scene inside the meeting hall or outside, though the male prowess may smart under such a dispensation.

Einstein was a Jew who had run away from persecution in Germany and like other German scientists who made the bomb in the US, he knew the devastation it would cause. A woman scientist would not go that far because she is pacifist by nature and knows that women and children suffer more.

Therefore, when the world observes the woman’s day on March 8, there is hope that women would be great scientists in future, but they would radically change the world as we know it today.

True, they have not got their rights. But it is also because the perception of what the world should be, was wrong.

Isn’t it rather a one sided perception that women just can’t lead in science and math? Man has taken upon himself to believe that the woman is not meant for it. Experts say that if we catch girls young and introduce them to a new set of thinking they would be great scientists. Why shouldn’t they? But we make the young girls busy with house chores of fetching water, fuel, tending the cattle or minding the toddler siblings. If still something is pending which we have forgotten, we think and remember and ask them to help their mothers in cooking. Did Einstein have to do all these?

Catching them young is what the international giant IBM did when it inducted 45 Girl scouts in Rochester, Minn., US to a programme called Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day in which they were given a task to solve a crime and know forensics- the girls, ages 9 to 15, were given cocoa powder to dust for fingerprints and chocolate bars to study teeth imprints – there was also a heavy dose of science and math.

The troops measured the “culprit’s” footprints to extrapolate how tall he or she might be and used deductive reasoning to eliminate suspects from further investigation. The workshop was the fifth annual event which emphasized on other skill crucial to the girls future success in science and engineering.

There was the former woman astronaut Sally Ride who organized a science camp in which 800 middle school girls participated and were inspired to know astronautics.

Both these initiative show that there is nothing in the gender which is responsible for men occupying top science chairs in universities.

Deborah Stipek is head of education at the Stanford University conducted research which proves that by age 12children have formed hard and fast beliefs about the subjects at which they excel or fail.

Translated into Indian context if more Zubaidas are introduced to science in early life they would be more successful in their achievement in science and math.



Dr. Zubaida Ansari, a Ph.D. in Physics is currently working at Jamia Millia Islamia as Associate Professor at Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Basic Sciences.

The above write-up was first published in Deshdoot Times on March 08, 2005.






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