Event in honor of International Day of Women in Mathematics discusses women’s challenges and perspectives in Exact Sciences
International Day of Women in Mathematics is celebrated this year on May 12, a date established last year during the World Meeting for Women in Mathematics (WM)² to celebrate the birth of Iranian mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani, the sole winner of the Fields Medal. Commemorative initiatives are being held around the world. In Brazil, FGV’s School of Applied Mathematics (EMAp) brought together roughly 40 participants representing several FGV schools and the mathematics departments of UFF, UFRJ, UERJ and the LNCC and IMPA institutes to celebrate the date.
In the opening, Professors Maria Soledad Aronna (FGV EMAp) and Alessia Mandini (PUC-RJ) presented the biography of a few major female mathematicians in history: from Hypatia of Alexandria, the first female mathematician in historical accounts, to Karen Uhlenbeck, current Professor Emeritus at the University of Texas at Austin, United States. Professor Uhlenbeck was the second woman in history to deliver a plenary lecture at the International Congress of Mathematicians in 1990, a century after the first edition of the event, and the first to win the Abel Prize, one of the most prestigious awards in mathematics.
Christina Brech from the University of Sao Paulo (USP) at the lecture “Mulheres na Matemática – Desafios e Conquistas no Brasil” (“Women in Mathematics – Challenges and Achievements in Brazil”), presented data on the situation of women in mathematics in Brazil. The data showed that around 40% of the faculties of undergraduate programs in Mathematics in Brazil are female. The percentage then drops to 22% in the graduate program faculties and to 13% in the CNPq Research Productivity Scholarships, and reaches the small figure of 5% of the members of Mathematical Sciences of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences. More data can be found in the article “O dilema dos tostines” (“The Tostines dilemma” written by Professor Brech and published in the Journal of University Mathematics of the Brazilian Mathematics Association.
In turn, Professors Fatima C. Smith Erthal (UFRJ) and Karin da Costa Calaza (UFF) gave the talk Mulheres nas exatas: o que a Neurociência tem a nos dizer (“Women in exact sciences: What does Neuroscience have to tell us?”). In this presentation, they showed how women in many situations are discouraged from pursuing careers linked to Exact Sciences. Although women already make up 60% of students in universities in Brazil, courses in the field of exact sciences have a representation not higher than 30%. They presented possible reasons for this skewed distribution, based on neuroscience data on brain function. They talked about brain processing, especially as it occurs in a largely unconscious (implicit) way, and how social stereotypes can influence our behavior, assessments, and decisions.
The event ended with the roundtable debate “A carreira da mulher na Matemática: obstáculos e possíveis soluções” (“Women’s careers in Mathematics: obstacles and possible solutions”), moderated by Professors Maria Amélia Salazar (UFF), Luciane Quoos (UFRJ), Maria Soledad Aronna (FGV EMAp), and Alessia Mandini (PUC-Rio). The debate mentioned different situations where students and professors are discriminated in mathematics departments: in class, but also in examinations, meetings, and evaluation committees. Possible solutions to these problems were discussed, including a proposal to set up women’s committees within each institution to listen to the concerns of female students and seek to address them together.