In part four of our five features this week celebrating prominent women in science and technology across the world, we speak to Dr Gloria Bonder, the coordinator of the Global Network of UNESCO Chairs on Gender and the UNESCO Regional Chair on Women, Science and Technology in Latin America. She talks about UNESCO’s latest global figures on women in science, changes that need to be made in both policy and education, and the necessity for more qualitative research on the women who are successfully developing careers in engineering, technology and science.
Dr Gloria Bonder is the Director of the Department of Gender, Society and Policies of the Latin American Postgraduate Institute of Social Sciences (FLACSO Argentina). She coordinates two regional programmes including the UNESCO Regional Chair on Women, Science and Technology in Latin America and the e-learning master’s programme on Gender, Society and Public Policies. Bonder is the coordinator of the Global Network of UNESCO Chairs on Gender. Since 2014, she has coordinated the region’s activities in the global GenderInSITE programme, through her role as the UNESCO Regional Chair. The programme aims to influence policies and policy makers in science, technology, innovation and engineering, to integrate gender equality principles and goals.
She is a researcher and consultant on Women, Science and Technology for several national, regional and international organisations such as: Minister of Science and Technology in Argentina, United Nations, Women and Development Unit, ECLAC and the Office of Science and Technology, UNICEF, UNIFEM, UNDP and UNESCO, among others. Bonder has developed several research projects on gender issues and/in technology and science, education, communication, health and youth, and published books and articles both national and international. She is a member of the advisory board of UN Women for Latin America and the Caribbean and WISAT (Women in Global Science and Technology).
“What I would love to see is more qualitative research not on why women can’t and why so few, but who the women are that are successfully developing careers in engineering, technology or sciences,” strongly asserts Gloria Bonder, coordinator of the global network of UNESCO Chairs on Gender and the Regional Chair on Women, Science and Technology in Latin America. She continues: “We should look at why they chose that career, what their experiences have been so far, and what they like and don’t like, as well as how they overcome obstacles. We must move away from the basic question of why so few.”
Dr Bonder is not one to mix her words lightly. Having worked on gender studies for more than 40 years in science and technology, she has an authoritative voice and is deeply respected across the world. During unstable political times in the mid-1970s in her home country of Argentina, she was the catalyst behind the creation of a women’s study centre, carrying out independent research on different aspects of gender studies. At that time, it was quite the pioneering community and as a result led to the introduction of a postgraduate programme on women’s studies at the University of Buenos Aires, which Bonder was the founding director of between 1987 and 1999.
As we look back at Dr Bonder’s achievements having set up the Gender, Society and Policies Institute in 2001 at FLACSO-Argentina, there is something on her mind that won’t shift. She interjects: “We need to not only attract both women and men to these careers, but make fundamental changes to the workplace culture and promote that both genders share caring responsibilities. If I was young now, would I choose the science and technology subjects that are taught today? No. To go into laboratories or industries and make a career in such a way that you have to choose between having a family and enjoying other dimensions of your life, or being a successful scientist, is just plain wrong.”
At FLACSO, Bonder has been quite the influential director coordinating regional programmes across Latin America. The institute runs two huge programmes, which consist of the e-learning Master’s Programme on Gender, Society and Public Policies, and working on training and research projects for UNESCO and other organisations, alongside Bonder, in her role as the Regional Chair on Women, Science and Technology in Latin America.
Bonder has undertaken a great deal of research and written publications on gender and education, communication, science and technology and also on young people. Her involvement with UNESCO goes back to the early 1980s, where she fondly remembers the first regional meeting on gender and science that her team organised in preparation of the World Conference on Science in 1985. UNESCO recognised her as one of “the 60 women of the world” for her contribution to the work of the organisation.
“My research has been very much focused on science and technology education and on mainstreaming gender perspectives in public policies,” says Bonder. “We trained a lot of young women and men how to carry out research and action programmes with a gender perspective, as well as communicate to the “gender blind” the benefits of diversity and gender equality.”
In both her roles at UNESCO, she is a very proactive spokesperson and believes the organisation’s chairs on gender across the world are respectful of each other and doing many interesting things to raise awareness. The Global Network of Chairs on Gender was created collaboratively by UNESCO and Bonder in 2010. It brings together chairs working on gender research, training and advocacy worldwide, including universities and research centres. “The focus obviously differs depending on the country’s socio-economic and political challenges, as well as the resources each chair has at their disposal,” observes Bonder.
Bonder is fairly downbeat when analysing statistics on gender in science and technology. Just 30% of the world’s researchers are women, according to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics on women in science. It shows while a growing number of women are enrolling in university, many opt out at the highest levels required for a research career. There is also a tendency for women researchers to work in the academic and government sectors, while men dominate the private sector which offers better salaries and opportunities. This is the case even in countries with high percentages of women researchers. Bonder’s home nation of Argentina, for example, performs better than the global average with 52% of women researchers. Yet, only 29% are employed in the private sector.
“Latin America is a very large, complex and diverse region where there are some countries that have a very low level of education and others such as Uruguay, Costa Rica and Argentina that have achieved literacy in basic education,” notes Bonder. “There are many women in universities in the region, but the participation of those in science, technology, engineering and maths is unequal, just like many other parts of the world.”
Statistics show that Latin America and the Caribbean far exceed the world average with 44% of women working as researchers, but Bonder believes there is much still to be done. “So many articles in the media talk about culture stereotypes, the public image of those careers, influence of family and schools, and this is all very true, but my personal view is that we need to change the way these fields are taught before we can attract more women, and men too,” exclaims Bonder. “Ask young people what they want to be and lots will say a musician, filmmaker, fashion designer. These new careers appeal much more because they are taught in a creative and engaging way.”
As well as an active member of the Iberoamerican Women’s network of leaders, Bonder coordinates the region’s activities in the global GenderInSITE programme, through her role as the UNESCO Regional Chair. The programme aims to influence policies and policy makers in science, technology, innovation and engineering, to integrate gender equality principles and goals.
Her views on the need for a profound change in the curriculum, teaching methods and a more inter-connected and multidisciplinary way of learning science and technology, are often aired at the highest levels in government. Bonder is not sold by this though and believes the governments of many Latin American countries need to create more policies related to increasing the number of women studying science and supporting and stimulating women researchers to advance their careers.
“I think governments across most countries in Latin American need to be aware that they are investing in education and at the end have very competent and highly skilled women that are simply not being utilised effectively to boost innovation, economic development and opportunity. They are losing great talent,” sighs Bonder.
She is, however, positive that mind-sets can change globally and improvements be made in the education system and workplace. “I’d like to see concrete involvement in terms of scholarships for young women from poorer backgrounds to enter science and technology, as well as mentoring programmes to be put in place. More cooperation is needed between the universities, the private sector and the state in developing a whole programme that not only increases access for women to go into those fields, but supports them along their career path,” concludes Bonder.