More than a thousand Brazilian scientists launch Network in defense of the lives of women in the pandemic

Publicação: 8 de May de 2021

Group seeks solutions with entities and the government to improve the lives of women in situations of social vulnerability

Brazilian Network of Women Scientists is an open project and is receiving subscriptions from scientists from all over Brazil

Researchers from all over Brazil came together to create the Brazilian Network of Women Scientists, a movement launched on April 19 which aims to draw attention to the condition of Brazilian women in the COVID-19 pandemic, something practically ignored in the public debate, as well how to present proposals and responses to face the pandemic. The Network is an open project that is receiving subscriptions from scientists from all over the country. So far more than a thousand have joined the initiative.

President of the Brazilian Network of Research on Tuberculosis REDE-TB, an epidemiologist and professor at the Federal University of Espírito Santo (UFES), Dra. Ethel Maciel explains that the articulation emerged from some researchers and gained rapid adhesion in the academic environment. Still according to her, the idea is to work at the political level, seeking to guarantee more equality for the female population, and also to stimulate and collaborate with academic studies on the impacts of the pandemic for women. “We want a special look at public policies that help in the problems that women, including the significant portion that is part of health professionals, have faced, such as employment, housing, adequate food, sexual and reproductive health, in addition to combating violence against women, one of our focuses, which has increased a lot during the pandemic”, adds the professor who is part of the executive group of the Brazilian Network of Women Scientists.

Behind the participation of women in science, there is also a scenario of gender inequality. Even though they spend more time than men taking care of household chores and children, women who are at the forefront of fighting the pandemic have their voices less heard. Dr. Michelle Fernandez, professor and researcher at the Institute of Political Science (IPOL) of the University of Brasilia (UnB) and specialist in public health policies, points out that the space of women in science has always been smaller, even though there is a large number of undergraduate and graduate students. However, according to her, women have always occupied less space in command positions, in research coordination, which has been changing slowly in recent years. “We are assuming more and more space and growing not only in number, but also in the management positions, however, we still have a male majority in these spaces and the disparity can be seen in the recognition of the research. The idea was created that men held knowledge, which is still reflected today when women position themselves as scientists and are less valued, less listened to”, laments Dr. Fernandez.

Another challenge faced by women is the sharp fall in participation in the labor market. According to data from the Institute of Applied Economic Research (Ipea), the lowest in 30 years. To get an idea, according to the Continuous National Household Sample Survey of the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (PNAD/IBGE), 8.5 million women left the workforce in the third quarter of 2020 (most recent data), compared to the same period in 2019, that is, before the pandemic. As a result, more than half of women aged 14 and over were left out of the labor market. Professor Fernandez recalls that this scenario was greatly aggravated in the pandemic due to the role of caregivers that women play in society. “When children who should be at school stay at home, when there are people with less access to health services and patients with COVID-19, women stop taking up space in the labor market to take care of the family, a role historically assumed by them”, she recalls. For Dr. Fernandez, the absence of a support network for women to leave home is a determining factor. “It is essential that governments think about the social support that they should pay to society in general. It is also important to reflect on the safe return of schools, through an authentic discussion of how to do it safely. A discussion that was not taken seriously and that has not yet taken place”, ponders Dr. Fernandez.

Member of the Brazilian Society of Tropical Medicine (SBMT), Dr. Ana Rabello, who is part of the Clinical and Public Policy Research Group on Infectious and Parasitic Diseases of the Research Center René Rachou/Fiocruz (MG), member of the Brazilian Network of Women Scientists, draws attention to an important aspect of the academic career of women in Brazil. For her, bringing together researchers from several Brazilian institutions, from different areas of knowledge, from different origins and paths throughout the scientific career can bring hope to women scientists, who experience the effects of inequalities in their daily lives. “The reflection comes about the recent alternative of including the period of maternity leave in the Curriculum Lattes [CNPq platform for scientist information], the result of the mobilization of women researchers. Late, for sure. Enough? Motherhood is traditionally seen as a subject, if not a ‘problem’, for women. Paternity licence seems more like a permission to accompany the mother, than the necessary time of experiencing paternity, in its entire complexity. The fact is that motherhood is not a woman’s affair, nor is it of the parents. Somebody needs to be pregnant and someone needs to take care of the children of the world. Children are also the responsibility of institutions, public authorities and society”, emphasizes Dr. Rabello.

Considering that we talk about researchers and that research places are, by definition, places of thinking, Dr. Rabello brings some questions that make us reflect: How many institutions have a place to support breastfeeding? Where do children stay when mothers are working and need to breastfeed? In the Institution? Are meetings scheduled taking into account travel times for mothers (or fathers) to drop off or pick up their children from schools? Do productivity reports consider maternity, breastfeeding and occupation time with young children? “Strange to remember that we are beings who eat, who need time for doctors, dentists, personal matters. These activities cannot be squeezed during lunch hours, early escapes, or late arrivals at work. Likewise, the look at the arrival of a child in the world, needs to be greater than the usual gifts, the baby showers of colleagues, the photos on Instagram. Mothers are deep pits of guilt. Guilty at work, for not being mothers; guilty when they are with the children, because they would need to be working hard. This guilt should not exist or is in the wrong place. May the double paternity increase this cord, which is already becoming stronger, that the paternity leave is real, that the conquests are not lost and that society recognizes its responsibility in the care of its children”, concludes Dra. Rabello.

Finally, Dr. Fernandez says the group intends to broaden the debate regarding policies for women in the pandemic and make their situation public. “We need to talk about the increase in the number of women outside the labor market, the increase in deaths from domestic violence, the death of pregnant women and women who have recently given birth to COVID-19, who, even though they are a high-risk group, are outside the priorities of the vaccination plan . These are issues that need to be addressed”, she justifies. The Network also wants to work in partnership with public managers at different levels of the Federation. “The idea is to offer technical and scientific support so that public policies are rethought, so that public bodies can expand their response capacity in order to change the reality of these women. In addition, we want to disseminate successful experiences in responding to the pandemic, always bearing in mind the Network’s major objective, which is to defend the lives of women during the pandemic in Brazil”, concludes Dr. Fernandez, one of the creators of the Brazilian Network of Women Scientists.

The Network’s launch letter points out that poor, black, and women who live in the outskirts of the cities are even more strongly affected by the pandemic, whether due to the health crisis itself, or due to the economic crisis, the suspension of classes in schools, the intensification of domestic violence, restricting access to health care or measures related to reproductive health. Published on the official website of the Network, the public letter presents the principles of the movement and has already been signed by more than 2,000 researchers from various areas. Check the entire document 

Find here the list of scientists  who have already signed. To participate enter the site: https://mulherescientistas.org/

It is more than proven that having women acting at the head of governments, at the head of research, only brings positive results. One of the most successful responses in the pandemic came from New Zealand, a country ruled by a woman. And in this crucial moment that Brazil faces, it is essential that proposals for policies related to women occupy space on the public agenda, so that these women scientists can collaborate with responses and, thus, addressing and reflecting women’s issues, the Network will impact on the confrontation to the pandemic and throughout Brazilian society.