Guest bloggers: Carel IJsselmuiden (COHRED, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa); Bipasha Bhattacharya (COHRED, Corresponding Author, firstname.lastname@example.org), Julia Vallauri and Eric Martin…
International Day of Women and Girls in STEM from a Latin American perspective
February 11 marks the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. PLOS ONE is marking this day by handing over our EveryONE blog to the Women in Bioinformatics and Data Science Latin America (WBDS LA) community. This group was founded by women for women and other gender minorities, and activities and administration are run almost exclusively using volunteer hours without dedicated funding. The ethos and spirit of the group is a showcase of active researchers displaying qualities that often go under-recognized in research assessment – the value of mentorship, true community support, and a concerted effort to create an inclusive, welcoming and collaborative research environment.
Below, one of their co-founders, Dr. Ana Julia Velez Rueda (UNQ – CONICET* (Argentinian Scientific Council)) provides an thoughtful and thought-provoking account of gender equality in science in Latin America generally, and specifically within the research community within bioinformatics and data sciences.
By Dr. Ana Julia Velez Rueda – WBDS LA Co-founder
Since 22 December 2015, we have been commemorating the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. The United Nations General Assembly adopted this day to promote the full and equal access and participation of females in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields. But, is this day still important in a world where technology plays such an important role in every aspect of our lives? And in a reality where there is no doubt that STEM professions are the future in the economic world? According to the UNESCO Institute of Statistics, a person working in STEM earns two-thirds more than those employed in other fields. Nevertheless, despite the importance of these fields and the economic advantage that studying these careers would bring, women and non-binary people are still underrepresented in STEM .
In Latin America, these differences are even more pronounced. According to a survey by the Inter-American Network of Academies of Sciences (IANAS, 2015) , women make up less than 20% of the total membership in Latin America, and they are mostly in administrative positions on the governing councils. According to data from the Ibero-American Network of Science and Technology Indicators (RICYT), in 2017 in Latin America, only 36% of researchers working in engineering and technology were women, while in most countries of the region, they are overrepresented in medical and health sciences and in social sciences . However, these observations are not just representative figures for a large number of individual fates. It has been shown that the low representation of women in STEM fields is closely related to deeper inequalities observed in all different social aspects and that it has a negative impact on the productivity and economic competitiveness of the countries of the region . So perhaps this International Day of Women and Girls in Science could be a good opportunity to ask ourselves how we can change this reality that affects us all.
Progress and Challenges in Gender Equality in STEM in Latin America
Since the 1980s, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) founded by feminist women from many countries in Latin America have brought gender perspectives to science. Through workshops, training, and research, they have created and maintained spaces to disseminate, discuss, and promote critical thinking about women’s inequality in society. Since the mid-2010s, there has been an expansion of these initiatives in the region, driven by different institutional hierarchies that aim to institutionalize actions and proposals on gender equality in different universities .
Many women still working in STEM are also working in a variety of nonprofits and projects that aim to give visibility to the work of women and other minorities. These groups also focus on data collection, participate in shaping public policy, provide accompaniment, and create networks of support. From Mexico to Argentina, we have RAGCyT, HackWomen, Technolatinas, DataGenero, Las de Sistemas, Rede Brasileira De Mulhere Scientistas, Parent in Science, PyLadies, RLadies, KuñaTech, STEM sin Fronteras, and of course, the WBDS LA, just to mention some of them. They are all sustained by the volunteer work of their members and sometimes by the financial support of international organizations and foundations, but most of them do so with little or no government recognition or support. So perhaps this 11th February, instead of questioning “How do we attract women into these spaces?” we should ask ourselves “How do we support women and diversity, and how do we accompany them, so they do not give up?”.
Women in Bioinformatics and Data Science Latin America: Our contribution to reducing the gender gap
Women in Bioinformatics and Data Science Latin America (WBDS LA) is a community of women working in the fields of bioinformatics and data science, created in 2019 by Ana Julia Velez Rueda, Liliane Conteville (Embrapa Pecuária Sudeste – São Paulo, Brazil) and Lucy Jimenez (Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, Colombia), with the support of dozens of researchers from the region and the world. WBDS LA brings together women and other gender minorities working in STEM in the public and private sectors. Our community aims to promote and give visibility to women’s research and contributions in these areas. It also aims to foster networking and collaboration within the community of women scientists from the public and private sectors.
Our organization, like all organizations that have a gender perspective, was born out of a need to recognize ourselves, to join forces and efforts, and to let ourselves and everyone know that we are also part of these masculinized niches like bioinformatics and data science [6-8]. We have all suffered violence, harassment, or discrimination throughout our careers [9-12] and we wanted to create support networks for those who come after us and for ourselves. We were born in and are a multicultural and multinational community with representatives from different countries in Latin America.
To increase diversity, all our events are open and free. In addition, we strive to provide materials in Spanish and Portuguese (the main languages spoken in Latin America) and English (the main language of science). For example, our website and most of our educational material and tutorials are available in these 3 languages. We make big efforts to translate all the video content of the lectures and workshops into these languages.
Since 2019, we have held 3 conferences, attended by more than 3000 women and non-binary people from all over the world, with more than 100 speakers from Latin America all of whom were women. Three booklets with more than 500 amazing research works, one special issue in Bioinformatics and two articles are the results of this amazing experience [13,14]. In the 3 years of our existence, we have trained more than 1200 people in our workshops and courses, with mostly women and non-binary attendees.
Currently, the WBDS LA comprises a group of women who volunteer in this community and thousands of colleagues who follow us on social media. Although we are still struggling to build and fund the basic infrastructure to run our events, like many of our colleagues in other NGOs, we are here to contribute to change for all the women and girls who are here and will come. And to the question, “How can we accompany women and other underrepresented groups so they do not give up?” We have found our own answer by fighting for equality with the women around us and working with other communities and people focused on these issues. In the words of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “Your feminist premise should be: I matter. I matter equally. Not ‘if only’. Not ‘as long as’. I matter equally. Full stop.” .
 Earnings of Academic Scientists and Engineers: Intersectionality of Gender and Race/Ethnicity Effects – Yu Tao, 2018. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0002764218768870?journalCode=absb (accessed 2023-02-02).
 ANCEFN survey: https://www.ancefn.org.ar/user/files/SURVEY_OF_WOMEN.pdf
 RICYT reports: http://www.ricyt.org/category/indicadores/
 UN WOMEN Report: https://www.unwomen.org/sites/default/files/2022-09/Progress-on-the-sustainable-development-goals-the-gender-snapshot-2022-en_0.pdf
 LA INSTITUCIONALIZACIÓN DEL ENFOQUE DE IGUALDAD DE GÉNERO EN UNIVERSIDADES DE AMÉRICA LATINA
 Shen, H. Inequality Quantified: Mind the Gender Gap. Nat. News 2013, 495 (7439), 22. https://doi.org/10.1038/495022a.
 Exploring gender differences in bioinformatics research. https://upcommons.upc.edu/handle/2117/330994 (accessed 2023-02-02).
 Moss-Racusin, C. A.; Molenda, A. K.; Cramer, C. R. Can Evidence Impact Attitudes? Public Reactions to Evidence of Gender Bias in STEM Fields. Psychol. Women Q. 2015, 39 (2), 194–209. https://doi.org/10.1177/0361684314565777.
 Moss-Racusin, C. A.; Dovidio, J. F.; Brescoll, V. L.; Graham, M. J.; Handelsman, J. Science Faculty’s Subtle Gender Biases Favor Male Students. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. 2012, 109 (41), 16474–16479. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1211286109.
 Cech, E. A.; Waidzunas, T. J. Systemic Inequalities for LGBTQ Professionals in STEM. Sci. Adv. 2021, 7 (3), eabe0933. https://doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.abe0933.
 Sexual Harassment of Women: Climate, Culture, and Consequences in Academic Sciences, Engineering and Medicine – National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, Policy and Global Affairs, Committee on Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine, Committee on the Impacts of Sexual Harassment in Academia – Google Libros. (accessed 2023-02-02).
 Clancy, K. B. H.; Nelson, R. G.; Rutherford, J. N.; Hinde, K. Survey of Academic Field Experiences (SAFE): Trainees Report Harassment and Assault. PLOS ONE 2014, 9 (7), e102172. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0102172.
 Jiménez, L.; Conteville, L. C.; Feldfeber, I.; Didier, M. G.; Stegmayer, G.; Marino-Buslje, C.; Rueda, A. J. V. Highlights of the 1st Latin American Conference of Women in Bioinformatics and Data Science. The Biophysicist 2021, 2 (3), 99–102. https://doi.org/10.35459/tbp.2020.000174.
 (10) Rueda, A. J. V.; Conteville, L.; Pantano, S.; González, W. Women in Bioinformatics & Data Science – Latin America. Methods X 2022, 9. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mex.2022.101907.
 Excerpt of “Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions”, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie