Women in the fields of science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine at Swansea University

How is life in Chile? It is a man’s world, just like everywhere else …

blog post by Dr. Sara Barrento

When Monika asked me how is life in Chile, she meant from a European female researchers point of view.

To be honest, I never gave much thought about the gender gap in the academic world in Chile. Maybe because the gender gap is so big in daily life that, in comparison, in academia it is not that different from the UK.

Here I am in Chile, I am Portuguese but I have done research in the UK and now I am inbetween Portugal, Porto (CIIMAR) and Chile, Puerto Montt (I~MAR). I am doing research on seaweed cultivation and, to be honest, this is the place to be as it is probably the western country with the greatest knowledge in this area.

But as usual, of course, I had some cultural shocks in the beginning, felt homesick and misadjusted, followed by awe; “this country is amazing” and “I am already missing it” type of feeling. But the first let’s say researchers shock I had in Chile was not related to the gender gap; it was the aversion that Chileans including young researchers have to the English language! This is part of the education problem which is actually being discussed in Chile at the moment.

Whenever we go to a different place, to live, to work, we go fully loaded with our previous life experiences – our references.  I am lucky because I have lived in 6 cities, 2 countries, and on a daily basis I work and interact with people from 11 different nationalities of 4 continents. But I had never been to Chile, not even South America, so this was completely unexplored ground. As usual when I arrive at a different environment, the first things I notice are the differences. But as soon as the novelty is gone, as soon as I realized that the post office in this country does not sell envelopes, it just dispatches mail, when this is not absurd anymore, we start noticing similarities. As usual, I always come to the same conclusion – people are people, everywhere, with our flaws and virtues.

The gender gap is an issue; actually in everyday life routine it is greater here in Chile than in the UK and Portugal. The expectations of what women should or can do are very sexist. Strangely, this is true for both men and women. I have a colleague from Colombia that thought Colombia was a sexist country until she came to Chile. But she mostly complained about women’s sexist attitude. I asked about the gender gap to Chilean women, the answer: women are paid less, the only professions where there are more women than men are nurses and kindergarten teachers because if a man chooses these professions he must be gay! Men don’t even go to the laundrette to pick the clothes because it is a woman’s job.

I find this strangeMedia Library ‹ sciencetell — WordPress and contradictory. Latin American countries are known to have a macho culture, but then Chile, Argentina and Brazil have female presidents!! I have also discussed this; the answer could not be more appropriate and meaningful – but governments and presidents do not represent most of us, do they?

On the positive side, I do know exceptional Chilean men and women. My supervisor and my colleagues are truly exceptional and role models. If the education in Chile improves and if people start to learn English the change will be even faster and greater.

But what about the gender gap in higher education and research? In January there was a field course in global kelp ecology here in Puerto Montt. This is a unique course, one of the best that I ever had the opportunity to participate in, and is a collaboration between California and Chile. A total of twelve students attended this course. Guess how many men? One! Of the 5 international guest lecturers, guess how many women? NONE! I~Mar has 11 researchers with a permanent position – 2 are female. But, if you look deeper among the non-permanent staff, lab technicians, admin people, most are female. I usually send seawater samples to a private lab; I never saw a man in this lab …

But let’s go back to my first statement. When I say I did not feel such a big difference between Chile and the UK, it is because the biggest shock had already hit me when I moved from Portugal to the UK. Why? Because the gender gap in the UK is greater than in Portugal. I felt that personally but then I got the real data to prove it. According to the She figures data, between 2002 and 2009 Portugal was at the 5th position of countries with the biggest proportion of female researchers in all sectors; the UK was ranked at number 12. To stress this pattern and according to the Global Gender Gap Report 2014 (data from the World Economic Forum, see figures below), among the 3 countries, Portugal is where the salary is more even between men and women.

When talking about the differences in the workforce between women and men I like to give as an example a radical thought experiment on equal payment for equal job, which was the first thing that was mentioned by my female colleagues here in Chile.

The thought experiment goes like this: imagine a man. This man is concerned about his household income. What can he do to have the best value household income?

  • Let’s define a household  as 2  people who live in the same dwelling and also share meals or living accommodation (this is a simpler version of the legal term).
  • Let’s also assume that this man has no prejudice and is only thinking about the money and the positive benefits of having people (both men and women) feeling rewarded for the job they do. In order to get the better value household income this man probably has at least two options:
  1. To find a male partner, because apparently, in a household of 2 men, the income is greater than a household of 1 man and 1 woman (given equal jobs and according to statistics – this is true for all 3 countries, and unfortunately worldwide)
  2. Or to be a feminist and defend equal pay for equal jobs for his wife/partner.

Unfortunately the word feminism has been misused, misplaced and sometimes deliberately given a bad reputation to the point that most people cannot relate to it or define themselves as feminists. Anyway, given the time it takes to change society, if a man wants to have the best household income it is probably better to find another men to share living accommodation and meals. I know this is a simplistic view of the microeconomy, but it is just an example to show that discrimination towards women is actually discrimination towards everyone.

Countries like the UK are usually seen as role models, so programs such as the Athena SWAN charter are really important because as in the words of Mellody Hobson “the first step to solving any problem is to not hide from it, and the first step to any form of action is awareness”.

In case you were wondering, here is a definition of feminism by Wikipedia: “to define, establish, and achieve equal political, economic, cultural, personal, and social rights for women. This includes seeking to establish equal opportunities for women in education and employment”

Mellody Hobson, by the way, did one of the 10 TED talks by women that everyone should watch, her talk is entitled Colour blind or colour brave? You can watch it here.

The featured image of this post is by Álvaro Valiño, it is entitled Chance for Change and illustrates an opinion article which states that the economic crisis could be a good opportunity to deep into the changes that the world and specially Latin America needs to achieve a fairer world.  http://www.alvarovalino.com/Chance-for-change

More info on the Global Gender Gap here

Álvaro ValiñoChileFeminismGender GapLatin AmericaMellody HobsonPortugalResearchTEDUKWage GapWomen in ScienceWorld Economic Forum

Sara Barrento • March 30, 2015

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