The publication to be presented on October 17 aims to generate knowledge about women’s participation in science in the country, from a historical perspective and to recognize and highlight the first female scientists, to generate references for women in science and thus fight stereotypes
In this edition of Facetas, we interview Eugenia Rodriguez Blanco, Ph.D. in Social Anthropology. Her research work lies in feminist and applied anthropology. She has worked as a researcher and educator in various countries in Africa and Latin America, including: Brazil, Mozambique, Cape Verde, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and Panama. In 2014, she joined the University of Panama as a visiting professor and researcher at the Research Center of the College of Humanities (CIFHU) and is currently a member of the National Research System of Panama and a research associate at the International Center for Policy and Science. Social Studies (CIEPS). She is the coordinator of the Pioneras de la Ciencia en Panamá edition.
Science Pioneers is a book that depicts women in science in Panama. How did you come up with the idea of this study?
The most significant precedent for research on science pioneers in Panama is the study on women and science conducted for SENACYT in 2018 (https://mujeresenciencia.senacyt.gob.pa/) in which I co-coordinator with researchers Nadia de Leon and Yolanda Marco. This study provided a gender diagnosis of women’s participation in science in the country, and conducted an analysis of the gender determinants that women admit to encountering in their careers. The results of the study revealed that women are not on an equal footing with men for participation and survival in science, demonstrating in particular how gender stereotypes, roles and relationships were characterized by women’s opportunities to participate in certain scientific fields, but also in certain decisions – taking positions in the scientific hierarchy . Based on these findings, the study authors recommend implementing actions aimed at combating these conditions of gender inequality in science, including highlighting and recognizing women’s scientific contributions to the history of science, to counter gender stereotypes. Create and promote female references in science for the community, especially for girls and young adults. At that time I got the call from journalist Fanny Arusha. She had been working for a few years on the biography of the country’s first female doctor and gynecologist, Dr. Lydia Sogandaris, and she was so familiar with the work we did on female scientists in the country, she wanted to explore possibilities for collaboration. Listening to Fanny and learning about her work with the pioneer of medicine, the idea arose to expand the biographical research to include other pioneers of science in Panama, with a dual goal: to continue generating knowledge about women’s participation in science in the country, now. From a historical perspective. But also to recognize and highlight early female scientists, to generate feminist references in science and to combat stereotypes. This is how we approached Senacyt with a project proposal entitled: Pioneers of Science in Panama: because they were; Because we, they will be, which was finally supported by a cooperation agreement signed in 2021 with the International Center for Political and Social Studies, CIEPS, the scientific institution hosting this project.
Working as a scientist was not easy for these pioneers. There were class, gender and racial prejudices. According to the interviews and studies conducted, what can we learn from the life experience of these pioneers?
In fact, they had to face many prejudices about their abilities, which were based not only on gender, but also on race. Women in general and women of African descent in particular had to demonstrate their ability to contribute to science and development as scientists. They made them feel intrusive. They also felt a great deal of responsibility because their participation in science was observed to question women’s participation in general. They knew that the responsibility lay with them, for being the first to come to them, to open the way for other women to come later. For them, getting involved in science was an individual challenge, as well as a group challenge. Not only did she cast these prejudices on those who managed to get there, she also acted on all women through various socialization channels laden with gender stereotypes that discourage women’s participation in science.
Some of these women scientists and pioneers were mothers. But do you think they have what’s called a “maternal instinct”?
In our research and the theoretical framework from which we deal with this study, we do not start from the presence of such an instinct, but rather from the awareness of gender determinants of the difficulty of reconciling the family and professional life of those who formed their families. mothers and developed a scientific career. It is very likely that this difficult reconciliation, even more difficult than it is today, determined that many of the pioneers who are part of the selection of our research, made the decision not to start families or not to become mothers. Those who did, had crucial support in their family and social environment to reconcile care and science, in the absence of the care policies of their time. It must be borne in mind that the time when these pioneers developed their lives, during the first or second half of the twentieth century, gender roles and especially the link between women and domestic and caring responsibilities, were strongly present in the construction of women. identification. They had to face this fate and the gender norm: some defied that, determined other destinies, and others, as I said, had to take the difficult challenge of reconciliation.
In a sentence of the introduction, it states: “Racism and sexism have been combined in the worst way for women of indigenous or African descent, even today with fewer opportunities to pursue a scientific career.” What public policies can be implemented to overcome this discrimination and inequality?
The current conditions of inequality for participation in science are not only gender, there are other social conditions that define fewer opportunities or greater obstacles. We do not have a diagnostic study in the country that raises these facts of discrimination against indigenous peoples or people of African descent, because of their ethnic and racial status, and it would be necessary to do so in order to obtain more knowledge on this issue that would allow informing and correcting the policies that address it. In the aforementioned study on women and science in Panama, we collected information on the particular gap that indigenous women found themselves in relative to the rest of the women in the country, to participate not only in science, but also in education. The results indicated that indigenous women are still in a situation of unequal access to education, gender and racial inequality. In an article we wrote for the CIEPS blog titled: “When Will a Pioneering Indigenous Scientist Arrive in Panama?” Sociologist Patricia Rogers and I thought about this, going so far as to assert that “we will have a pioneering Aboriginal scientist when the time comes.” Equal conditions of education that still do not exist for indigenous communities (…). Indigenous girls and young men need close references in science, but more than that, they need to ensure that they receive a decent and comprehensive education, and an education in conditions. We still have a lot of work to do on this.” (https://cieps.org.pa/para-donde-una-pionera-cientifica-indigena-en-panama/). This equality is in mind and committed to overcoming it.