Biotechnologies, such as genetic engineering, cloning and biodiversity, raise many
legal and ethical concerns, so it is important that people understand these issues and
feel able to express their opinions. This is why the European Commission has been,
for a number of years, supporting actions to improve communication among scientists
in these diverse areas.
The project ‘Women in Biotechnology’ (WONBIT), financed under the 6th
Framework programme of the European Commission, is an excellent example of
what can be done to target opinion-formers such as scientists, economists and lawyers
in bottom-up activities, and to encourage a debate on gender issues triggered by
developments in the life sciences.
WONBIT gave rise to a successful international conference highlighting the
importance of adopting good practices and ethical considerations in parallel with
the rapid pace of progress in biotechnology – from a woman’s point of view. In
particular, the conference addressed women in decision-making positions in biotechnology
with specific reference to scientific excellence, social competencies and
management qualities as well as issues relating to environment, society and the
But it did not stop there: a key part of the conference was dedicated to stimulating
public debate among non-specialists, which has led to a number of recommendations
to policy-makers on better communication in biotechnology, on taking better
account of the gender aspects of research, and on involving more women in the
decision-making process that surrounds developments in biotechnology.
I am sure that this publication on the outcome of the WONBIT conference will
contribute to enhancing the significance of women’s role and presence in biotechnology,
as well as changing outdated attitudes that view biotechnology as a simple
production tool to a view that recognises its use and development to be both
environmentally sustainable and socially acceptable.