12/02/2021

Science is for women

2 min
Women and science: less Einsteins and more Curies

Recently, the Association of Women Researchers and Technologists (AMIT) has launched the #NoMoreMatildas initiative to increase references to women scientists in school textbooks and thus awaken scientific vocations in girls. What would have happened if Einstein had been a woman? Surely his name would not ring a bell. The credit for his studies would have been claimed by a man. This is what is known as the matilda effect, named after Matilda Joslyn Gage, a women's rights activist. For centuries, science was done without women or taking credit for their advances. Male inertia is strong and continues to produce discrimination and a certain invisibility. There is still, albeit subliminally, a deep-rooted prejudice that research is a man's job. To correct this, the International Day of Women and Girls in Science was established in 2015 and is celebrated every 11 February.

The few women who have excelled in this field through their work, such as the pioneer and double Nobel Prize winner Maire Curie, are historical exceptions. Exceptions, but not because of a lack of ability, but because of a lack of vocations, opportunities and recognition of their successes. Fortunately, Curie has been followed by many more. Things are changing. We only have to think of some important recent discoveries: the first wireless communications system, by Hedy Lamarr; the first e-book in history, by Ángela Ruiz Robles; or the first treatment for leukaemia, by the pharmacologist Gertrude Elion.

The Barcelona Institute of Science and Technology (BIST), made up of seven of the most important Catalan research centres, has 41% of women in senior researcher positions but only 15% are group leaders. There is still a long way to go, therefore, not only in terms of awakening scientific curiosity in girls, but also in terms of advancing their careers and giving them the prominence they deserve, at least at the same level as men. The more women join research, the more progress will be made. Because some intellectual and creative qualities that add value to science, which is increasingly conceived as a team effort, are more feminine.

At ARA we talked to three leading young researchers, the astrophysicist Mariona Badenas, the biologist Carla Conejo and the data analyst and expert in computation and mathematics Anna Bach. All three had a clear scientific vocation from an early age and do not feel that the fact of being women has limited them. They are proof of change. But all three also acknowledge that what drove their professional choice was the existence of female role models. And for all three of them it was also crucial to be able to participate in Fundació Catalunya La Pedrera's Joves i Ciència programme, a decisive push. They are not lacking in ambition. Badenas aspires to go to Mars, and has already taken the first steps to make her dream come true, despite the fact that the astrophysics world is still very much a male world. They are breaking false stereotypes. Science is already, and will become increasingly, more feminine. We must continue to advance in equality of conditions.

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