In its 1999 Communication “Women and Science: mobilizing women to enrich European Research” the European Commission recognized that networks of women scientists have a key role to play in ensuring a better integration of the gender dimension in the research policy.
Building on the 1999 Communication, preliminary work identified existing networks of women scientists and a Network Guide was published containing their profiles and contact details. A conference the same year in June brought together representatives of networks of women scientists and organisations committed to the improvement of the gender balance in research policy.
Their “Declaration” emphasized the importance both as an empowerment and policy tool and set out the basis for future cooperation. It also stated that “the gender balance in research policy is to be perceived from three different perspectives: research by, for and about women”.
More precisely the Action Plan on Science and Society of December 2001 stated: “There is a need for a framework under which to exchange experience and good practise while facilitating cooperation and consultation across sciences. This would create the mechanism for involving women scientists more actively in the policy process, by disseminating information and supporting lobbying and advocacy work. It would empower women scientists in their careers, with training actions and networking activities, a database of role models and mentors, campaigns and awareness raising initiatives.” Under Action Nr. 24, the Commission announced its intention to set up a European Platform of Women Scientists to bring together networks of women scientists and organisations committed to gender equality in research.
In preparation for this, in 2002 the Women and Science Unit of the Directorate General Research, the European Commission set up a Steering Committee and tendered a “Study on Networks of Women Scientists”. This study resulted in an update of the existing Network Guide (Directory of Networks of Women Scientists), a “Survey” which identified the needs of the networks and a “Final Recommendations Report” which develops a scenario, identifies challenges, and provides recommendations to the European Commission.
You can access the full texts of the documents mentioned here
The creation of EPWS
In September 2003, the European Commission published an open call for creating a European Platform of Women Scientists. The call was won by CEWS (Center of Excellence Women and Science) in Bonn, Germany, who signed the final contract with the Commission as sole contractor in February 2005.
In the set up of the project, CEWS was supported by a Founding Board of high-ranking women scientists from a variety of disciplines from all over Europe in order to assure the integration of a variety of networks from the very beginning. The EPWS Secretariat in Brussels took up work in January 2006. The Specific Support Action under the Sixth EU Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development had a volume of 2 million € and ran until 31 October 2008. Because of its successful performance and increasing impact, EPWS was listed as named beneficiary in the Capacities Science in Society Work Programme 2008 of the Seventh EU Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development (FP7) to continue its activities and granted up to € 600.000 of total eligible costs of grant activities under the condition that the Platform matches this amount with € 150.000 co-funding.
However, despite various initiatives with regard to policy makers in Europe, including a letter to all European Commissioners and Members of the European Parliament, personal meetings with representatives of the General Directorate (DG) Research, DG Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities and the European Institute for Gender Equality, as well as funding organisations at national level, no solution could be found regarding the Platform’s lack of financial resources to sustain the running costs of the European Platform of Women Scientists EPWS AISBL.
The impasse created by existing financial structures and EU funding rules and regulations could not be overcome – despite the high acceptance and acknowledged quality of the Platform’s work, fulfilling an identified public need and an explicit political goal of the European Lisbon Agenda.
In October 2009, the Platform was forced to close down the EPWS Secretariat in Brussels and since then continues its activities and services on a voluntary basis.