Opinion: ‘Give half of research grants to women, then we’ll have more women Nobel Prize winners’

Opinion: 'Give half of research grants to women, then we'll have more women Nobel Prize winners'
Some of this year's (male) Nobel Prize winners pictured at Stockholm Concert Hall. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT
After a Nobel banquet celebrating another year's crop of winners -- all of them male -- Swedish MP Linda Snecker argues that the country must do more to promote and recognize the scientific achievements of women.

Sunday was Nobel day and Jeffrey, Michael, Michael, Kip, Barry, Rainer, Jaques, Joachim, Richard and Kazuo received the Nobel Prize. Surrounded by admiring and applauding women in beautiful dresses, dazzling jewellery, extravagant hairstyles and flattering necklines that show just the right amount, the media report on which of them sit at the same table as the King.

The fact that there are also competent researchers among the women will continue to be of secondary importance.

After an autumn with the landslide feminist campaign #MeToo, it feels especially irritating that not one of this year’s Nobel Prizes went to a women. So we are still part of this long drawn-out notion that women can take part in the Nobel context primarily as attractive things to look at, while it's only men who have made important discoveries.

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This is nothing unusual; over the years it has been the rule rather than the exception that all the prize-winners are men. Is this because men’s research is so much better than women’s? No. The result of research does not change depending on the sex of the researcher. However, the attention surrounding research varies a lot depending on the sex of the researcher.

Above all, we see that male researchers get more research grants than their female counterparts. Men are also more likely to be made professors. It’s not acceptable to close one’s eyes to the importance the Nobel Prize has in drawing attention to science and research in the world, especially in Sweden. The absence of female prize-winners depends primarily on two things: partly on the fact women have fewer possibilities to be able to pursue advanced research and studies, and partly on the fact that women’s accomplishments and discoveries are overlooked, minimized, or completely forgotten.

The dance floor at the Nobel Banquet. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

The Left Party is a feminist party. Therefore, we see the problem with so few women receiving the Nobel Prize and we have suggestions for how we can do something about it. Already in school, textbooks need to be revised; more notable women researchers, both contemporary and historic, should be highlighted to break the existing norms and prejudices early on.

When it comes to the distribution of state research grants, we want a goal to be introduced, that no more than half should go to male researchers. We also want the introduction of an equality bonus for educational institutions to encourage a more equal gender distribution in research and academies.

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There is also a lot to do to rectify inequality in Sweden’s universities and colleges. Students choose training positions based on stereotypical patterns of gender roles. Research grants are awarded to a higher extent to men than to women.

Last year, the Swedish Research Council granted applications from almost double as many men as women, and even if you take into account the fact that men made more applications, a greater proportion of them were approved than of the applications made by women.

It’s not only about the opportunity to carry out research, but also about noticing the women who do it. The Times Higher Education carried out a survey among 50 former Nobel Prize winners this year. They noted that many of the prize-winners said it was a problem that so few women had won the prize. Many of them believes it’s due to the fact that women’s research accomplishments have been underestimated. Nearly two thirds of them said that their own prize was devalued in some way by the fact that so few women had won the prize.

That’s why we need a change; we need to have more women researchers, who should get half of research grants. We need more women professors and above all more female Nobel Prize winners.

This opinion piece was written by Linda Snecker, spokesperson on research policy for the Left Party, and translated by The Local. You can read the original on Aftonbladet here.