Women scientists, let us make ourselves heard!


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When I was little, my grandmother used to tell me and my sisters, “Do research; be researchers to find out the cure for diseases”. Personally, I never understood this. It seemed too difficult and broad of a sentiment that I never thought I could make it happen. She, as with many other women from her generation, did not have access to a higher education as she had brothers for whom the resources were reserved. This inequity shaped so much on her life and drove her to encourage her granddaughters to pursue Bachelor’s degrees, preferably in Science, but if not, something that could help other humans. Today, I wish I could tell her that I am fulfilling her dream, both for her and for all the other women that still do not decide their own future, do not have access to a proper education or health system or simply, those that they have acquired their roles from civil society norms and, finally, those that have selected other less certain pathways.

 

Today, I am thinking of my University teachers; the teachers who passionately taught me why dedicating ourselves to science is one of the most beautiful things we can do, and why, even though it is a tough path, the rewards are great. In particular, I remember the teacher who changed my destiny, Consuelo Jiménenez, in a Parasitology lecture. She taught us how two women scientists were dedicating their lives to work in research in order to find new drugs, vaccines and other preventive tools to improve the health of vulnerable people in sub-Saharan Africa, Central, and Southern America. These two scientists, and examples to follow, are Pilar Mateo 1 and Clara Menéndez 2. That moment encouraged me to pursue a career in research.

 

It is no secret, as all of us have realized over the course of our Bachelor’s degrees, while the vast majority of students are women but the majority of professors/deans/principal investigators are men. This underrepresentation in our very own environment, in “developed” countries, highlights the need to celebrate Women’s Day (8th March) and the International Day of the Women and Girls in Science (11th February).

 

In Spain, according to data from the Ministry of Education, approximately 70.4% of the new students in Health Science degrees are women, however, the percentage of female professors and senior lecturers remains less than 40% 15% respectively 3. Unfortunately, this is only one of the many examples where we can see discrimination and equalities in our society. As a result, we all have to support ourselves in order to not only have a stronger presence in the research field but to break the very “glass ceiling” that separates us from the top employment opportunities. Despite it still being difficult to reconcile our families and professional lives, we know that the life of an investigator is quite tough, requires sacrifices, exhausting and neither highly paid nor socially rewarded and reasons could explain why many women decide to abandoned the field. However, with a better understanding of the reasons, we can and need to mobilize ourselves. We do need to engage in demonstrations to reduce the wage gap and the different employment opportunities between genders in order to achieve real equality in research and other aspects in life.

Today is the day to call for an improvement in research conditions, stable and high-quality employment options and decent wages. Today is the day to show that we are not lacking motivation and that do have the potential to create knowledge and expand on it. We just need governments and institutions to equip us with the tools and opportunities to make it in a fair and sustainable way. To achieve this, we need to recognize that we are not alone; we are women and researchers. For all of us, have a happy day!

References:

  1.  Pilar Mateo. Available at: http://www.pilarmateo.com/index.php/quien-soy
  2. Clara Menéndez at ISGlobal. Available at: https://www.isglobal.org/researcher?p_p_id=viewpersona_WAR_intranetportlet&p_p_lifecycle=0&p_p_col_id=column-3&p_p_col_count=1&_viewpersona_WAR_intranetportlet_struts_action=%2Fview%2FpersonaView&_viewpersona_WAR_intranetportlet_personaId=7400&_viewpersona_WAR_intranetportlet_typeOfPeople=researcher
  3. Ministry of Education (2004). Available at: http://www.educacion.es/portada-mecd/

 

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Elena Marbán Castro is a Research Assistant at Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) and the Chair of the Board at the GHNGN. Her interests in Global Health are infectious diseases that affect the most vulnerable populations, mainly pregnant women, and early infants.

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