Standing Up for Gender Equality in Science in times of COVID-19

This year’s UN Human Rights Day focuses on the need to build back better following the Covid-19 pandemic by ensuring Human Rights are central to recovery efforts. To end the pandemic and build a strong recovery, we need to build good science. According to the Standing Committee for Gender Equality in Science, this can only do that by giving women — half of humankind — the same possibility that men have to contribute their talent and dedication to building the science we need.

This year’s UN Human Rights Day focuses on the need to build back better following the Covid-19 pandemic by ensuring Human Rights are central to recovery efforts. To end the pandemic and build a strong recovery, we need to build good science. And we can only do that by giving women — half of humankind — the same possibility that men have to contribute their talent and dedication to building the science we need.

Scientists around the world have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. However, not all scientists are affected in the same ways and to the same extent. Women are hit particularly hard, especially those at an early stage of their careers. There are two main reasons for that:

  • Women form the majority of caregivers, for children and for elders. During the pandemic, the difficulties of these women in accessing working space, equipment and resources are compounded by an increased burden of domestic work.
  • The proportion of women scientists who do not have secure full-time employment is higher than that of men scientists. Women are also more likely than men to find themselves in temporary ‘adjunct’ posts in which they may only be paid when teaching courses.

As a consequence of these two factors, since the outbreak of the pandemic, there has been a decline in the relative proportion of women posting preprints and submitting research projects. This in turn often puts their career advancement or continued employment at risk.

In this time of pandemic, when a health crisis combines with an economic crisis, the work of scientists is critical. The world stands to lose much unless all scientists are in a position to pursue their work in good conditions and also if a significant number of scientists drop out of their research careers.

“Giving women scientists the same chance as men to help “build back better” is crucial to overcoming the pandemic. But several studies have shown that the work of women scientists (especially those at an early stage of their careers) is suffering more than that of men from the disruption caused by the pandemic. The Standing Committee for Gender Equality in Science (SCGES), which represents ten international scientific unions and associations, is calling for urgent measures to support these women’s work and careers.”

Catherine Jami, Chair of the Standing Committee for Gender Equality in Science,
Representative of IUHPST; Secretary General, IUHPST & DHST

Just as some governments support the preservation of jobs endangered by the pandemic, it is urgent to take action to prevent science from losing some of its most promising contributors. This can be done by upholding and further developing measures aimed at supporting and promoting women’s research and academic careers. Here are some possible ways to act in this direction during the present crisis.

  • Academic institutions should urgently extend the contracts of academics who are in temporary positions, and they should take caregiver burdens into account when scheduling decisions about promotion or tenure.
  • Funding agencies and recruitment committees should take into account the burdens of increased caregiving and of preparing online teaching (often at short notice) when assessing applications, as these are major causes of lapses in research productivity.
  • Journals should ask authors to indicate their caregiving burden, and put authors who report a major load of childcare or eldercare at the front of the queue for publication.
  • Fees for online conferences should be adjusted for participants who have lost income due to pandemic-related job changes or caregiver responsibilities.

All these forms of support need to be publicized widely, so as to encourage those who can benefit from them to submit their papers and projects.


In order to promote gender equality in science, a number of international organizations who took part in the project A Global Approach to the Gender Gap in Mathematical, Computing, and Natural Sciences: How to Measure It, How to Reduce It? wish to act together to further promote this goal by continuing and enlarging the work accomplished so far, in particular by supporting women and girls’ equal access to science education, fostering equal opportunity and treatment for females in their careers. For this purpose, they established a Standing Committee for Gender Equality in Science (SCGES) in September 2020.

The Standing Committee for Gender Equality in Science calls for all individuals and institutions engaged in science to join forces in supporting women colleagues whose research careers are jeopardized by the pandemic.


Partner Organizations:

  • International Astronomical Union (IAU) with its Women in Astronomy Working Group (WAWG)
  • International Council for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (ICIAM)
  • International Mathematical Union (IMU) with its Committee for Women in Mathematics (CMW)
  • International Union of Biological Sciences (IUBS)
  • International Union of History and Philosophy of Science and Technology (IUHPST)
  • International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) with its Diversity and Inclusion activities.
  • International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP) with its Women in Physics Working Group (WiP)
  • Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) with ACMs Women in Computing (ACM-W)
  • Gender in science, innovation, technology and engineering (GenderInSITE)
  • International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS)

Photo by Emma Shulzhenko on Unsplash

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