Raissa Malu

The invisible half

To have more women in science, we must first measure their presence.

Are we invisible? Who? Well, women!

You know, that other half of humanity. Are we so insignificant that governments are not making the fight against violence against girls and women a top national priority?

Unpaid work

That unpaid work done mainly by girls and women (childcare, care for the elderly, fetching water, cleaning, etc.) is neither considered nor valued, nor taken into account in the calculation of GDP (indeed, that would be possible)? That public spaces, infrastructure and social facilities are not designed with the needs, well-being and safety of girls and women in mind as well? That institutions and research do not produce or take into account gendered data?

Lack of data

I confess that I had never thought about it until I came across Caroline Criado Perez's book, Femmes invisibles. Comment le manque de données sur les femmes dessine un monde fait pour les hommes, First Editions (2020).

The following quotation from Simone de Beauvoir sums up the book's words well: "The representation of the world, like the world itself, is the operation of men; they describe it from their own point of view, which they confuse with absolute truth".

Ignored body

Caroline Criado Perez demonstrates that this situation is due to the absence of gendered data, or to the failure to take such data into account: the representation of women is not limited to their presence or not in certain positions or professions, it also has to do with the absence of gendered data!

One example. There may be less data on women's bodies compared to the data available on men's bodies. Many specialists (doctors, researchers, scientists and technicians) may have become accustomed to thinking of women's bodies as a kind of reduced male body!

"Universal" Male

In this world where male is considered universal and female "atypical", the human being of reference, the one supposed to represent all humanity, is a (white) man between 25 and 30 years old, weighing 70 kg. (By the way, I invite you to search Google Image about human anatomy: you'll tell me if it seems to you that the representations displayed are balanced between women and men).

Agree or disagree, Caroline Criado Perez tells us that it is more than time and urgent to collect gendered data in ALL areas and in ALL spheres, in order to take women into account and avoid situations where the proposed solutions are at best disadvantageous to them, at worst deadly. Caroline Criado Perez's book lists a number of them, which is enlightning!

Impact of quotas

"If you're not aware of how prejudice works, if you don't collect data, and if you don't take the time to establish fact-based procedures, you contribute to blindly perpetuate old injustices," she writes.

Before I continue, I would like to focus on a classic issue in the field of women's representation, the question of quotas, which is not unanimously accepted by either women or men. According to a recent study by the London School of Economics, opporite to popular belief, quotas would make it possible to "eliminate incompetent men" rather than promoting unqualified women!

The DRC example

What about the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo? The Ministry of Gender, Family and Children is the institution in charge of the gender agenda in the DRC.

It should be asked for. Let me just share with you my personal experience on the issue.

Women and IT

Take the case of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. I have often heard men say that women are not interested in computers.

To do so, they rely on their personal experiences. Since they meet few or no women in computer science programs and events, they conclude that this field does not interest them.

Natural Talent

They also think that we would be less talented, less determined and less thirsty in this field than they are (as if all men in computer science were!). In this regard, Grace Hopper, a pioneer in computer science, explained that computer science is "just like hosting a dinner party. You have to organize in advance and plan everything so that it's ready when you need it. Programming requires patience and an ability to pay attention to details. Women have a "natural talent" for computer programming."

Collecting data

In January 2019, my association Investing In People launched the Database of Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics in the Democratic Republic of Congo as part of the 6th edition of the Science and Technology Week (April 2019). We wanted to collect data to understand the paths of these women in order to propose policies at the primary, secondary and technical education level to increase the number of girls in these fields.

it was not a small surprise for me to discover that out of the 362 women registered (at the date of the analysis), computer scientists were the most numerous (23%)!

Computer Bias

The trend shows that this field, computer science, is clearly of greater interest to girls and women than, for example, physical sciences or pure mathematics. But then, why are they absent from computer science programs and events?

Could it be that the way in which these programs and events are presented, promoted, organized and the atmosphere that prevails there keep women out? Have we bothered to ask and listen to girls and women about this? If so, what have we done with the data collected?

Violence and discrimination

It is already a challenge to convince girls (and their families) to embark on STEM studies and careers in the DRC, but it is even more difficult to keep them. Unless they are protected, they are likely to be victims of violence and discrimination from a teacher, assistant or colleague.

When I ask them about this, they say they are still able to "manage" these situations by relying on work to force respect. But the major difficulty for them remains access to funding for studies, research or participation in scientific events.

Offering scholarships

This would be the main barrier to their career advancement. Based on this information, we have partnered with Nicole Sulu's Sultani Makutano to offer Scholarships for Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics in the DRC. The first 20 winners of these scholarships were announced in April 2020.

The more gendered data we collect, the better we can address the issue of women's representation for the benefit of both women and men. You can of course question our approach.

Good reasons

Why should we struggle to bring half of humanity out of the nothingness into which it has been plunged?

Here are some reasons from Caroline Criado Perez's book: "when we exclude half of humanity from the production of knowledge, we miss information that can cause upheaval"; "women frequently put important issues on the peace process agenda that male elites tend to neglect, such as the inclusiveness and accessibility of processes and institutions, and the importance of local and informal spheres"; "a recent analysis of quantitative data found "compelling evidence" that countries where women are kept out of positions of power and treated as second-class citizens tend to be less peaceful".

Of course, you don't have to believe us. Make your own experience by starting to remedy the lack of gendered data!

To be continued ...

Science is fun, join us! 😊

This post was first published on LinkedIn.

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