Rubina Mulchandani has been unable to do any field work for the past six months. A PhD scholar at the Indian Institute of Public Health in Gurugram, Mulchandani’s research involves travelling to tertiary hospitals in Delhi to collect data from cardiology OPDs. The first major hurdle was the Delhi metro grinding to a halt on 22 March, two days before the national lockdown began. Then came the other restrictions and health risks of the pandemic. While metro services restarted in September, Mulchandani, who has already lost precious time, says she’s unlikely to get on a train anytime soon because of the health and safety risks involved.
“Early research career fellows like me often do a lot of field work. There is only so much work you can do sitting at home. We are all facing that problem, but for women, due to the fact that we face additional constraints with travel and (our role as) primary caregivers, the impact of Covid is compounded,” said Mulchandani.
As the global scientific community focuses on Covid-19 research at the cost of other ongoing projects, women in science around the world, including in India, say the pandemic is widening the gender gap that already existed. Only about 14% of Indian scientists are women, the UN found in 2018, and attrition rates of women researchers at early career levels were high even before the pandemic. A new study by data scientists at research institute Monk Prayogshala shows that the number of Indian women publishing papers on Covid-19 is much lower than men.
“When I look around for other women in my position, I can’t really see them,” said Gagandeep Kang, a senior medical scientist in India who was, until recently, chair of an Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) task force on Covid-19 drugs and vaccines.
“This isn’t exclusive to Covid. Women are going to be sidelined in decision-making. That’s what we have...