Dr. Nancy Lewis
Director, Research Program
The East-West Center
1601 East-West Road
Honolulu, Hawaii 96848, U.S.A.
Tel: 1-808-944-7245
Fax: 1-808-944-7399

Human Resources for the Future:
Women and Young Scientists in Asian and Pacific Science

A more equitable, sustainable global community where all women and men have equal opportunities to contribute to the challenges facing the global community, through contributions to science (defined broadly), technology, engineering and mathematics, as well as through contributions from the arts and humanities and other fields of human endeavour.

The Pacific Science Association is firmly committed to the full engagement of women and other under-represented groups in science. It is unlikely that any of the UN Millennium Development Goals – i.e. not only Goal Three “Promoting Gender Equality and empowering women” – can be met without greater success in achieving gender equality goals. Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has said, “Gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development and building good governance.” In more recent discussions of the Post-2015 Development Agenda, gender equity is an even stronger focus of attention. Intergovernmental bodies, international organizations, national governments, academics, NGO’s, the private sector, and civil society increasingly acknowledge the importance of gender equity. While concerns about equity are more than sufficient to motivate us to move forward, the profound challenges of global change – from climate change to globalization – demand that we employ all of our human resources to address these critical issues in the 21st century.

A short history of the Human Resources for the Future Working Group, including very successful sessions at the 12th Pacific Science Inter-Congress in Fiji in July 2013, is provided below.  As part of a Association-wide review of the function and future of PSA Working Groups, the HRF Working Group is exploring new avenues for fostering inclusive science and continuing to incorporate the vision into all PSA activities.

At the conclusion of the 17th Pacific Science Congress held in Honolulu in 1991, the Congress passed a resolution on the involvement of women and young scientists in Asian and Pacific Science and established an explicit focus on gender and equity issues in regional science and scientific activities. Following this, the PSA Working Group on “Human Resources for the Future” (HRF) was established at the 18th Pacific Science Congress in Beijing in 1995. In the decades following, the HRF Working Group has organized symposia at almost every Pacific Science Congress and Inter-Congress, with support from various organizations including the U.S. National Science Foundation, Ford Foundation (Beijing) and UNESCO, among others. The Symposia are listed below. The HRF Working Group also collaborated with the Science Council of Asia in hosting a special session at the joint meeting of the Pacific Science Association and the Science Council of Asia in Okinawa of 2009, “Grooming Scientific Talent in Asia: From a Gender Perspective”. Most recently, the HRF Working Group convened a Special Session at the 12th Pacific Science Inter-Congress (Fiji, 2013) on “Women, Science, and Human Security”, and also collaborated with the UN Women office in Suva to offer a session on Women and Domestic Violence in the Pacific at that meeting.

Gender and Science Symposia and PSA Congresses and Inter-Congresses:

  • 1991: 17th Pacific Science Congress (Honolulu): Symposium on “Women and Development”; Resolution on Human Resources for the Future
  • 1995: 18th Pacific Science Congress  (Beijing): “Human Resources for the Future: Women and Young Scientists in Asian and Pacific Science” (1995 World Women’s Conference); Taskforce on “Human Resources for the Future”
  • 1997: 8th Pacific Science Inter-Congress (Fiji): “Women, Science and Development: From Indigenous Knowledge to New Information Technologies”
  • 1999: 19th Pacific Science Congress (Sydney): “Women and Science in the Next Millennium: Science as a Career Choice for the Next Decade”
  • 2003: 20th Pacific Science Congress (Bangkok): “Women, Science and Sustainability”
  • 2007: 21st Pacific Science Congress (Okinawa): “Gender Science and Technology: Vision for the 21st Century”
  • 2009: Human Resources for the Future Working Group established (formerly a “Task Force”)
  • 2013: 12th Pacific Science Inter-Congress (Fiji): Special Session: “Women, Science and Human Security”; Session on “Women and Domestic Violence in the Pacific”

Science education and human resource development in the Asia-Pacific region has been a concern of the Pacific Science Association for much of its history. PSA had a Science Education Committee for nearly four decades. At the 17th Pacific Science Congress in Honolulu in 1991, a resolution was passed that stressed the importance of increasing the participation of women and young scientists in Asian and Pacific science. This marked the formal inception of PSA’s specific focus on issues of gender and equity in regional science and scientific activities. A symposium on women and development was held at the 1991 Congress in Honolulu. At the next Congress in Beijing in 1995, and with support from the U.S. National Science Foundation and Ford Foundation (Beijing), PSA organized a successful symposium on “Human Resources for the Future, Women and Young Scientists in Asian and Pacific Science.” Thirty-five sponsored participants from twelve countries1 participated. The results of that meeting were also shared at the Fourth World Women’s Conference in Beijing later that year. A proceedings volume is available (PSA 1996).

The 1995 symposium set the stage for collaboration across the region and led to productive suggestions for new research and research agendas, emphasizing the need for gender-disaggregated data to help inform and shape policy-relevant initiatives. The successful 1995 symposium also led to the creation of a “Division on Human Resources for the Future: Women and Young Scientists in Asian and Pacific Science” as one of the standing PSA committees.

The recommendations from the 1995 Congress emphasized the need for the PSA to work with international, regional and national organizations with relevant missions (PSA 1995). Organizations that were active in the mid-1990s and involved in the 1995 symposium included the International Federation of Institutes for Advanced Study Gender, Science and Development Programme (IFIAS/GSD), Asian Alliance of Appropriate Technology Practitioners (APPROTECH-ASIA), the Gender and Science and Technology Association (GASAT), and Women in Science and Engineering Forum of Thailand (WSE Thailand).

Another successful symposium on “Women, Science and Development: From Indigenous Knowledge to New Information Technologies” was held at the 8th Pacific Science Inter-Congress in Fiji in 1997. Women and men from across the region participated; a goal – and a measure of the success of the symposium – was the significant participation by Pacific Islanders. Participants addressed diverse topics: the need to preserve traditional medical knowledge in the Pacific; the exploration of the interface of post-colonial commercialism, identity, politics and culture in the Pacific; feminist critiques of science; women’s participation in and access to science and technology; and an overview of international and regional gender, science and technology initiatives (Lewis 1997). The proceedings were published in The Pacific Science Association Information Bulletin (PSA 1997).

The 19th Pacific Science Congress held in Sydney in 1999 continued PSA’s commitment to place issues of gender and science at the forefront of international discussions, with a symposium entitled “Women and Science in the New Millennium: Science as a Career Choice for the Next Decade.”

The 20th Pacific Science Congress held in Bangkok in March 2003 provided the venue for a symposium and roundtable discussion on “Women, Science and Sustainability.” Lorraine Corner, Regional Economic Adviser for UNIFEM2, delivered a plenary address on “Women, Science and Sustainable Development”, and Stephen Hill, Director of the UNESCO Jakarta Regional Office for Science and Technology, delivered a plenary address on the “Future of Gender and Science in the Asia-Pacific: Next Steps.” As the lead presentation in the roundtable discussion of gender and Science, Engineering and Technology in the region, Hill stressed the important parallel initiatives mentioned above: “women for science” which addresses women’s roles in the scientific enterprise, and “science for women” which address the implications of science for women’s lives – and particularly those of poor or disadvantaged women.

The Working Group held a very successful session at the 21st Pacific Science Congress in Okinawa in 2007. PSA also collaborated on and participated in the 7th Science Council of Asia Conference (co-convened with the 21st Congress) session on gender.  No specific sessions or symposia were organized for the 11th Pacific Science Inter-Congress in Tahiti in 2009, although sincere attempts were made to do so, including a Call For Papers circulated by Nancy Lewis (then-PSA Vice President). A similar unsuccessful attempt was made to organize a Symposium at the 22nd Congress in Kuala Lumpur in 2009 on “Gender, Science and Technology: Women, Science and Innovation in Asia and the Pacific” organized by Lewis, Dr. Bahiya Dato. Hj. Abd, Hamid (Head, Center of Gender Research, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia) and Dr, Wati Hermawati (Regional Secretariat for Gender, Science and Technology, UNESCO, Indonesia). MOSTI Deputy Secretary General (Science), Prof. Datin Paduka, Dr. Khatijah Mohd Yusooff had agreed to participate. Unfortunately, due largely to a lack of funding to support travel costs, we were unable to secure adequate participation to ensure a successful symposium.

The 55th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (March 2011) merged its broad interest in the improvement of women’s rights and gender equality with issues of science and technology (S&T), recognizing the importance of S&T in every sphere of human existence – from combating the spread of disease and malnutrition to environmental degradation and building a more peaceful, secure and prosperous global community. That session also acknowledged the importance of indigenous knowledge and the key role of the media in cultivating societal attitudes and women’s and girls’ self image and self-esteem.

At the 12th Pacific Science Inter-Congress in Suva Fiji, Theme 4 was “Gender, Society and Culture”, and a special session, “Women, Science and Human Security” was organized by the new Gender Studies Programme at the University of the South Pacific and the HRF Working Group.  Papers submitted addressed: gender equality in the knowledge society, the implications of gender inequality for inclusive growth, women in academia, changing gender relations in Fiji, women in Pacific parliaments, career consciousness among young women in Japan, and gender and climate change. The Working Group also collaborated with UN Women, Fiji and UNFPA, FIJI on a special session on gender violence in the Pacific from a comparative perspective.

Moving forward, the recently-launched UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), the UN Commission on Science and Technology for Development and UNESCO have critical roles to play, as do local and national women’s groups and science organizations, in advancing a common agenda. The PSA remains committed to being one of those science organizations engaged in this important issue.

Note1 1995 Beijing Congress participants hailed from China, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Netherlands, Papua New Guinea, Pakistan, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, and the United States.

Note2United Nations Development Fund for Women