In Indonesia, Women Scientists Close Gender Gap

The United Nations chose women and science education as the theme for this year's International Women's Day (March 8th) to highlight the gender gap in many parts of the world between the number of men and women scientists.

Yanti, who is developing new chemical agents to treat inflammatory diseases like arthritis, says there is no significant gender gap in Indonesia, at least not in her field.

"I find when I enter undergraduate school in the department of chemistry, I found that most students are women. And also at the department of biology at the time."

She is a researcher and lecturer in biotechnology at Atma Jaya University in Jakarta.

So is Noryawati Mulyono, who is developing a new biodegradable plastic. She says today there are more opportunities for women to compete with men in science.

"Nowadays there is a lot of science competitions, such as science olympiads, both national and international level. So if the women have a good academic record, she can join the competition and the competition is disregarding about the gender."

While the United Nations credits Indonesia with near-gender parity in science, overall in Asia women only constitute 18 percent of researchers.

And Indonesia still has a gender gap in its literacy rate. Poverty plays a large part that, by keeping many girls out of school, although Indonesia has always valued education for girls as well as boys.

Education advocates say in a world where technological innovation is key to development, a gender gap in science can put countries at a competitive disadvantage.

Yanti and Mulyono recently received research fellowships from the cosmetic company L’Oreal. The awards support gender equality in science.

Mulyono prefers to spend her vacation collecting samples of damar, a substance found in certain trees in Indonesia that she uses in her research.

"So last year I go to Kalimantan I found another species of damar. So while refreshing I still find something if I can have a chance to do research."

Yanti says the most rewarding aspect of being a scientist is the process of discovery.

"If we fail and it make like, yeah, sometimes we feel like we are losers, kind of like that. But after that and then, we think again. ‘OK, let’s read again, read again’, and then we study and then we try to find what is the mistake and what is the solution for that. For me that is the interesting (part) or soul of research."

Despite their fellowships, neither says she feels like a role model or a pioneer because, they say, women scientists are nothing extraordinary.