María Teresa Ruiz is a Chilean astronomer and professor at the University of Chile. In 1997 she became the first woman to receive the National Science Prize in Chile thanks to the discovery of Kelu (a super planet), and a supernova, among other cosmic objects.
Raquel Chan, an Argentine biologist, led the team of scientists that created a seed more resistant to drought that has the potential to double the productivity of soybeans, wheat and corn.
Marcia Barbosa, a Brazilian physics professor, discovered a peculiarity of water that can lead to a better understanding of how proteins are replicated, a key process in the treatment of diseases.
In addition to having many qualities such as determination, leadership, and love for the work they perform, these women managed to consolidate themselves as referents in their fields of work thanks to the fact that they achieved a high level of education. The good news is that they are not an exception in the region: in recent years the educational gap between women and men, measured by the average number of years of education, has been closed in the clear majority of our countries.
Recent research shows that since the mid-1970s, women in Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina have accumulated, on average, as many years of education as their male counterparts. The rest of the countries closed the gap throughout the 80s, 90s and 2000s.
In terms of learning, we still observe traditional biases: according to TERCE’s regional test results, sixth-grade boys in the region perform better in Mathematics, while girls perform better in reading, but these significant differences are not seen in boys and girls in third grade. When we analyze this, the differences are wide in the sixth grade students in almost all countries, which shows that the gaps in mathematics are not innate, but result from gender stereotypes present in our countries.
Can we then say that we have achieved gender equality in education? This is where the bad news comes in. The Information Center for the Improvement of Learning’s (CIMA for its Spanish acronym) latest brief shows that, despite the advances in access, women still face important challenges in learning levels and in labor market participation, therefore, these successful women scientists are in a certain way, an exception.
Despite the high level of access to education for women at all educational levels, from pre-school to higher education, young women present greater challenges in the labor market than men. In 2015, the average for Latin America indicated that almost 30% of women between 15 and 24 years old neither studied nor worked, while for men this percentage was 12%. Although the number of active women increased since 2005, other indicators of job performance are not encouraging: lower rates of labor participation, higher probability of working in the informal sector, and lower average hourly wage.
Access to education is at the heart of social movements for the realization of women’s rights and important advances have been made in recent years. However, we must still make an effort so that advances in education translate into better learning and materialize in better opportunities for girls in the labor market.
In this way, we can continue to include in our stories brilliant women such as Maria Teresa, Raquel and Marta as leaders in the arts and sciences in Latin America.
If you want to know more in detail the advances of women in education, download the CIMA brief on our website!
Before joining the IDB, she previously worked as a consultant for the World Bank, UNDP, and the European Commission.
Elena holds a Master Degree in Economic Analysis and a Ph.D. in Economics, both from the Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB). Her research focuses mainly on the development of skills and the transition of student to higher education and the workplace and the use of digital tools to improve learning. Her publication record includes international peer-reviewed journals.