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Support programmes for women in academia

Women are still underrepresented in academic systems worldwide. Support programmes to promote gender equality in academia create measures that help smooth out ‘minor discrepancies’. Here you can learn more about specific support programmes for women in academia.

Until their admission was officially approved, there was not a hint of equal opportunity for the first female students at German universities, who not only had to overcome bureaucratic obstacles but also frequently encountered open hostility in lecture rooms. Hermine Edenhuizen, the first woman to successfully qualify as a gynaecologist in Germany wrote: ‘In 1898, women could not even matriculate. We had to ask individual lecturers for permission to attend their lectures.’ Not until 1908 did the last German universities to admit female students finally open their doors – very late in comparison with the rest of Europe.

Women in academia: positive discrimination or ‘removing barriers’?

Today over half of all first-year students in Germany are female, and yet only around 30% of doctorates and 15% of postdoctoral qualifications are awarded to women. ‘Women don’t need positive discrimination, they need the barriers removing!’ says Elisabeth Cheauré, spokesperson for the State Conference of Women Representatives for the Universities of Baden-Württemberg.

Although Germany’s Federal Equality Act anchors gender equality in law, many of the obstacles on the path to equal opportunities at universities remain. When it comes to academic appointments, for example, women still tend to be given posts and fellowships that are less secure and shorter term; in addition, the view still persists that an academic career is incompatible with raising a family.

Equality or promoting women?

A brief glance at the origins of women at university and the current situation of women in academia makes one thing clear: wherever women are underrepresented or discriminated against, they should receive specific support until equality of opportunity is achieved. Universities and research institutes support such moves towards gender equality by targeting specific measures at promoting women. For, ultimately, equality of opportunity is of benefit to all.

Dr. Eva Reichwein, spokesperson on equality issues at the German Research Foundation (DFG), sums up these benefits as follows: ‘Mixed-sex teams achieve better, more creative outcomes on account of the diversity of perspectives. The proportion of women in academia also has a positive impact on the quality of research. For this reason, the DFG also plays an active role in gender equality and in 2002 made this one of its objectives.’

Measures and support programmes for gender mainstreaming of women in academia

Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)

Almost all DFG support programmes offer measures designed to help bring about gender mainstreaming, promote equal opportunities, and on occasion to provide additional support, e.g. the extension of fellowships for parents or provision of childcare services.

The DFG Website offers detailed information on gender mainstreaming

Alexander von Humboldt Foundation

The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation supports equal opportunities for men and women in research. Applications and nominations of women are welcomed, and programmes are designed to be as family-oriented as possible.

Issues relating specifically to female academics and young families can be found in the FAQ section on the foundation's website.

Humboldt Foundation FAQ

German Federal Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF)

The BMBF supports gender mainstreaming through a series of programmes and measures.

The International office of the BMBF offers general information on bilateral science and research cooperation projects as well as special programmes for women.


Women in international research

Ahfad University for Women, Sudan

The Ahfad University is exclusively for women. The university’s objectives are to create educational opportunities for women, to strengthen the role of women, in particular in rural development, and to promote equal rights for women in Sudan.

The AUW has very good international links; there is an annual summer school in cooperation with the Humboldt University in Berlin and the Free University Berlin, as well as a regular exchange programme also involving Berlin universities.

Ahfad University

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Do you have any experience with programmes like these? Do you know of other interesting programmes or initiatives concerning women in academia?

Find more interesting links and support programmes for women in the group ‘Studies and Research’ and share your thoughts with others!


Author: Sabine Müller

Update: February 2018


Martha Poisot
14 February 2018

It is very difficult to pursue a PhD everywhere but even when I got some recognition of my work my boss got bad influenced by his own wife and I got terrible bad situations just because I am a little bit successful...and they are not. In any case my working place is now famous because of the award I received.
At the end of the day is very tiring but I still have lots of innovative ideas ...I can not stop because of them.

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