Image by Shantaraj S.


The Inaugural Meeting of Asian-Oceanian Women in Mathematics held at ICTS and online from the 24th to 28th of April, 2023. The meeting brought together women working in various fields of mathematics and provided them with a platform to share their difficulties, develop a sense of solidarity, and voice their concerns. It celebrated the work and achievements of women mathematicians, who participated in various discussions and planned academic activities.

In mathematics, the gender ratio is skewed towards men. Even in the twenty-first century, women face social and cultural barriers to working in the academic field of mathematics. The meeting was an effort to drive change.


Image by Shantaraj S.

Systemic barriers

Societal barriers make it difficult for women to thrive in academia. In many places around the world, there is still a taboo on women pursuing mathematics. Systemic barriers play an additional role in discouraging women to pursue it as a career. As a result, there are not many woman mathematicians to serve as role models to young girls interested in mathematics.

Professor Maki Nakasuji shared her struggle, lamenting that she did not get an academic job for six years after completing her PhD in mathematics. Although she left academia, she continued her research on her own. At the back of this research, she got an opportunity to visit Stanford University, and only then did the academic path became easier for her.

Professor Phan Ha Duong mentioned how modern Vietnamese society still perceives women as incapable of pursuing mathematics. Although the number of women students in mathematics has increased over the years, women professors in mathematics remain exceptions. Professor Purvi Gupta said that the longer she pursued her career, the number of women in the field went down disproportionately compared to men, leading to isolation.

“It is a real challenge for a woman to become a professor in mathematics,” said Phan. So she suggests that equality in opportunity is not enough and advocates for equity in the form of affirmative action. She thinks women need to be given more opportunities, and one way to do that is to increase the age limit for postdoctoral positions for women compared to men. Steps like these can inspire more younger women to climb up the academic ranks instead of leaving academia at crucial junctures in life.

Professor Riddhi Shah narrated her struggles as a young mother during her graduate days and as a faculty member. She stressed how the absence of daycare centres at the workplace made it difficult to balance her mathematical journey with a fledgling family. Professor Sujatha Ramdorai agreed. She added that rather than facing immediate systemic barriers, she faced systemic attitudes of men in mathematics. Disparaging remarks about meetings of women in mathematics were not uncommon. Purvi added how discrimination may be subtle and difficult to realise when they occur.


Image by Shantaraj S.


Solidarity, inspiration, and friendship

The meeting’s participants revealed their sense of being one amongst very few women in their respective mathematical fields. However, they said, the various panel discussions held in the meeting helped them develop a sense of comfort and solidarity. “These meetings can also provide inspiration and mentorship to early-career women in mathematics,” said Professor Ikha Magdalena.

The meeting broke barriers of nationality and got enriched with lived experiences of women across geographies. Younger mathematicians found role models and directly connected with them. “You also build friendships,” said Purvi. “You forge certain bonds that are very long-term,” she added.


Changing times

Younger mathematicians said that although they did face challenges at the workplace, these challenges were not gendered. Professor Siddhi Pathak mentioned that she never had to worry about being a woman in mathematics. Bhavna and Archana Arya, both PhD students, agreed.

Siddhi recounted how she was the only woman in mathematics during her undergraduate studies, but there are many more women in undergraduate, postgraduate, and graduate studies now. “Over the years, hopefully, we will see a move towards equity,” she said.


Image by Shantaraj S.


Mathematicians talked about the positive role their families have played over the years. A supportive family, whether parents or partners, helped them focus on their mathematical journeys and encouraged them when the chips were down.

Conspicuous in their absence in the meeting were those mathematicians who were not so lucky, and whose silence spoke about the missed opportunity of mathematics being enriched by their work. The meeting’s organisers hoped that the number of such women reduces to zero in the coming years.


The author acknowledges the help of Professor Rukmini Dey and Harsh Kumar Khatwani at ICTS.

Debdutta Paul

Science Writer at ICTS