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Brazil leads emerging nations on gender equality in science

Women in Brazil have higher rates of participation in science, technology and innovation activities than their counterparts in other emerging countries. However, all of these countries continue to lag far behind the United States and the European Union in achieving gender equality in the sciences.

The results are from a gender benchmarking study led by Sophia Huyer and Nancy Hafkin of Women in Global Science and Technology, a not-for-profit organisation that promotes women’s participation in science, technology and innovation, especially in developing countries. It looked at women’s involvement in science and technology in South Africa, India, Indonesia, Brazil and the Republic of Korea.

Brazil has made a significant effort to promote women’s education, including in science and technology, according to Brazilian researchers Maria Coleta Oliveira of the State University of Campinas, and Alice Abreu from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, who worked on the study.

Yet, said Abreu, “Women in Brazil are still not well represented at the decision-making levels of the science and technology system… More creative actions will have to be developed so that Brazil can fully profit from the investment it is making.”

Large numbers of women drop out of science and technology activities during the transition from education to the workforce in all of the countries the study looked at. In South Africa, 45 per cent of the students studying science and engineering are women, but women make up only 16 per cent of those working in these areas. In the Republic of Korea, women make up 21 per cent of the students in science and engineering courses and only 11 per cent of the workforce in those areas.

Even in countries where more women enter science education programmes, the number of women working in science-related jobs does not increase.

“These economies are operating under the existing paradigm that if we give girls and women greater access to education they will eventually gain parity with men in these fields,” said Huyer. “The report indicates that access to education is not a solution in and of itself. It’s only one part of what should be a multi-dimensional policymaking approach.”

The work was funded by the Elsevier Foundation.