Ambassador Richard Verma’s Remarks at the Indian Institute of Entrepreneurship, Guwahati, Assam

Ambassador Richard Verma’s Remarks at the “International Training Program on Leadership and Career Development for Women Scientists & Technologists” organized jointly by Indo-US Science and Technology Forum and COACh International

(As Prepared for Delivery)

Thank you.  Hello and Namaste.  I’m delighted to be here with you this morning to welcome you to the second annual “International Training Program on Leadership and Career Development for Women Scientists & Technologists” and to build upon the partnership we began in 2014.  I am very happy to be able to join you in Guwahati. This is my first visit to Assam and to northeast India, and I am looking forward to learning more about this fascinating region.

I’d like you all to help me warmly welcome Professor “Geri” Richmond, Dr. Chandra Mohan, Dr. Rajiv Sharma, Mr.Vinod K. Pipersenia, Mr. Manoj Kumar Das, Dr. Asha Kishore, Dr. Jyoti Sharma and the other distinguished guests present here today.  Their support was vital to organizing today’s event and I am pleased to join with them to promote women in science and technology.

As I drove over here, I realized that many of the women scientists here must be pioneers in their respective fields of study and must have overcome gender bias to work in those fields.  I recall being told by one of my officers about his meeting with one of the world’s foremost astrophysicists.  She told him that she was the first woman to obtain a PhD in physics from one of America’s foremost universities.  She recalled that her admissions letter told her that “Though the institution could not deny her admission based on her academic credentials she would probably be happier somewhere else.”  Well, she attended that program despite that letter, and the person who wrote her that letter worked for her before he retired.  She forgave him for writing that letter, but I am told that after working for her he never quite forgave himself.  Today, she is a leader in her field and debates the origins and destiny of the universe with others and jokes about the difficulties she encountered as one of the first women in her field in the 1970s.  I applaud her fortitude, as I applaud the fortitude of everyone sitting in the audience before me.  I am sure that many, if not all, of you have similar stories to share.

In April I had the honor to attend a send-off for a team of young Indian scientists who would take part in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.  I was thrilled to see Indian girls play such a prominent role on India’s team.  I am proud to be able to say the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi supported this team through the Indo-U.S. Science and Technology Forum.  I recall a young woman by the name of Mansi Aggarwal who teamed up with her schoolmate, Harshit Jindal, to identify a plant-based herbal ointment to guard against the pinworm parasite.  I was impressed and the judges at the fair saw fit to award the duo a prize for their work.

There are many factors which contribute to the poor ratio between women and men in science and technology.
They include lack of female role models, gender stereotyping, and the lack of family-friendly flexibility in many science and technology jobs.  It is heartening to know however, that institutions in both of our countries recognize this problem and are working to attract, retain and promote women in science.

Here in Assam, I am happy to learn that Tezpur University is working to address these specific problems.  The University ensures that women faculty members are adequately represented in all academic and administrative bodies. For instance, a woman faculty member served as Dean of Research & Development for several years.

The school is addressing the issue of stereotyping and sexism through a permanent Cell for addressing harassment of women in the work place.  It has arranged for child care and children’s education by setting up a crèche, a play school and a high school within the University campus.  The University also has a Women’s Studies Centre, which specializes in issues facing women in northeast India.  And of course the school’s Equal Opportunity Cell organizes gender sensitization and counselling programs.

I’m sure there are many other educational and research institutions in Assam and across India that are providing similar incentives.  I would encourage them to share best practices to create a welcoming working environment for women to achieve their full potential.

“Women in Science” is one of the priority areas of engagement between the United States and India.  Both the U.S. and India share a common goal of promoting, enabling, and retaining women in science and increasing girls’ and women’s access to science and technology.  And both governments have been working toward these goals through various policy-level dialogues and bilateral events since 2009.

I am proud to tell you that in April 2013 the Department of State organized an International Visitor Leadership Program focused on encouraging women in science.  Five women scientists from India, including two scientists from the North East Institute of Science and Technology, Jorhat in Assam, spent three weeks in the U.S. to discuss women’s contributions to scientific innovation, leadership, public policy formation and explore ways to introduce effective educational and mentorship programs to encourage girls and young women to pursue science-oriented careers.

Now I could speak extensively about the various ways the diplomatic mission that I lead is promoting the advancement of women in science.  But I think it is more important that you understand why we are promoting this.  For me, this is about something fundamental, and that is the power of choice.  I believe that every person, male or female, should have the opportunity to pursue whatever their career choice is.  However, how can we expect our respective societies to thrive if half of our population is denied this opportunity?   How can we expect our countries’ economies to achieve their potential if some citizens are denied this opportunity?

I would like to thank the Department of Science and Technology of the Ministry of Science and Technology, the Indo-U.S. Science & Technology Forum, and my Embassy colleagues for their continuing effort to promote U.S.-India women in science engagement.

I understand this training workshop will discuss challenges, highlight best practices for enabling women in science, and determine potential solutions to address the difficulties women encounter in the science field.  These range from the education and empowerment of women to promoting retention and development of women scientists, engineers, and academic and industry leaders.

I believe the importance of science and science education in today’s world cannot be overstated.   Scientific innovation offers us a chance to achieve prosperity.  It has offered us benefits that have improved our health and our lives.  What’s more, it offers us our best chance of addressing the myriad global challenges that confront us.

The world’s difficult challenges can be solved.  But this will only happen when our best people — whatever background, whatever gender – work together with all their energy and talents focused on the key issues.  We need to equip all our scientists and innovators with the best education and the best training that is available and create an enabling environment—an ecosystem—where dissent, differences, disagreements, and diversity can flourish and allow for myriad contributions to come together for the greater good.

As Secretary Kerry said “The United States continues to work with governments, organizations and individuals around the world to protect and advance the rights of women and girls.  After all, just like in our own country, the world’s most pressing economic, social, and political problems simply cannot be solved without the full participation of women.”

President Obama has concurred, saying, “One of the things that I really strongly believe in is that we need to have more girls interested in math, science, and engineering.  We’ve got half the population that is way underrepresented in those fields and that means that we’ve got a whole bunch of talent…not being encouraged the way they need to.”

Both India and the U.S. agree on the importance of creating opportunities to empower women.  Women will play a vital role in the future of both our countries.  We must ensure their increased participation in science and technology fields.  Both our countries are working to promote women in science and technology education and careers, but challenges remain that we will continue to address.

The U.S. and India are world leaders in innovation, science, and technology.  We have demonstrated time and time again our ability to seize opportunities and change lives as we strive for a better world.  The presence here today of so many great minds grants us a rare opportunity to harness our joint ingenuity.

I would like to conclude by saying there is incredible potential for good things to happen when people from the U.S. and India work together towards a common goal.

I am excited to see such an excellent line-up of speakers in the workshop.  I expect there will be some very candid and productive discussions today and over the next few days.  I look forward to the outcome of your discussions and most importantly to your proposals on how we move forward to create opportunities for women to achieve their full potential in science.

Thank you!