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Women & Intellectual: The Reality of Female Researchers at Academic Settings in Brazil

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Casper Libero chapter.

In 1879, Brazil officially approved its first law granting access to higher education for young girls, as long as their responsible male permitted, usually a father or husband. Since then, almost 150 years have passed by, bringing judicial independence for women to decide by themselves all matters related to their education. Nowadays, it is estimated that the majority of students pursuing an undergraduate degree are female. However, their participation decreases as the career progresses, which means that most college financed researchers and professors are actually men, as demonstrated in a recent paper released in Sage Publications. So, what causes this phenomenon and how does it impact the workplace for those women in the academy?

Ana Beatriz Mauá, a doctoral student of History at University of São Paulo, defines that this phenomenon resonates with her experience. “Many times, there was this misconception that men were probably going to follow an academic career and that women would become teachers at an elementary or secondary school, as if being a teacher was less valuable.” 

The inequality of gender is not limited to the Humanities area, though. “There are more men receiving funding for research than women. Also, there is still a prevalence of masculine figures in positions of power, more so in areas related to Science, Engineering and Mathematics”, states Lilian Moreira, researcher in Pedagogy of Sciences and chemistry teacher graduate of Federal University of Bahia. 

Both of them acknowledge that the significant decrease of women involved in higher occupations in the academy is connected to motherhood. Due to a historical and social construction, reproduction and nurture is still deeply enforced onto women’s bodies as an obligation. “Women end up being responsible for many domestic tasks, like taking care of the house and of the children, and this inevitably affects their capacity of exclusive dedication to their professional career”, defends Mauá.

Moreover, Moreira points out that many graduate courses are not adapted to offer support during those periods of pregnancy or raising toddlers. “All students can ask for an extension to defend their concluding thesis. But, if a woman gets pregnant, there’s no rule or previous stipulation regarding this case”. 

Besides the difficulties involving maternity, all of the interviewed talked about having faced some form of discrimination or discomfort in their workplace. “It is pretty common to hear small ‘jokes’, silly or even vulgar. I could fight them. But if I did that, I would waste time and cause anger towards me. So, unfortunately, my reaction is to pretend not to listen or to give a fake laugh in order to avoid conflict”, declares Cristiane Tavolaro, professor at Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo specialized in Nuclear Physics.

Women end up being responsible for many domestic tasks. This inevitably affects their capacity of exclusive dedication to their professional career.

Ana Beatriz Mauá

The physicist claims that the academic settings in her area were sexist during the time of her undergraduate degree. Although the participation of women has increased, she evaluates that the study environment remains to this day inclined to have uncomfortable sayings. After all, society hasn’t completely extinguished its old-fashioned mentality. 

Furthermore, all three women mentioned not having their observations validated as easily as it happened to their male colleagues. The stories were very similar. For example, Ana Beatriz talked about the time she went to an academic congress and participated in a debate regarding literary work she had studied as part of her research. The male counterpart refused to properly consider the evidence she offered and quickly dismissed her point of view. In order to be taken seriously, female researchers have felt the need to be less delicate and more rigorous while presenting their theories. 

Finally, the academics were asked how they could, as educators, bring more young girls to scientific research. All of them highlighted the importance of valuing the work of successful female colleagues. To Lilian Moreira, “I always try to bring to my classes examples of women that are developing knowledge, so that I can break this stigma of the ‘male scientist’. Today, there are as well many women in science”.

In addition, Cris Tavolaro summed up the power that everyone carries to potentially raise attention to gender equality. “I post on social media about my own work and other women’s work. It’s one way to bring visibility to it. […] Because, if it is not being shown, people won’t know what things are possible to be done.”

Giulia El Houssami

Casper Libero '26

hi! i’m a future journalist who loves to stay up until the sun rises. usually, i’m learning new interesting things, reading or writing.