Gender equality in parasitology
In August 2022 we held a symposium at the 15th International Congress of Parasitology (ICOPAXV), in Copenhagen, Denmark.
The session was chaired by Dr. Carolina De Marco Verissimo from The University of Galway.
Dr. Nichola Calvani on the current status quo of women in parasitology:
Nichola opened the Herminthology symposium at ICOPA XV by discussing the challenges facing women working in STEM fields.
The disproportionate burden shouldered by women during the COVID-19 pandemic has been felt across academia. Women researchers, particularly those navigating the renowned uncertainty of the early career years, were the hardest hit by lockdowns, funding losses, and reduced mobility during the pandemic. The publication gender gap has widened since the start of the pandemic, and women – who are more likely to be on casual or short-term contracts – have left the workforce at alarming rates.
From a discipline-specific perspective, the current global focus on improved equity, diversity and inclusion in academia and beyond presents a pivotal moment to take stock of where we stand in relation to gender equality in parasitology. By collecting historic data on gender across all levels of academia, including society executive committees, awards, and honorary memberships, we are able to assess current progress towards gender equity and set a benchmark upon which to measure future gains or losses in this area.
Professor Cinzia Cantacessi on balancing motherhood and academia:
Cinzia gave an insight into the challenges encountered when balancing motherhood and academia. The COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated the need to address a well-known challenge in academia: the impact of parenthood on career prospects, opportunities and productivity of women academics. Such impacts are often felt very early on in a woman’s journey to parenthood – from the choice of the so-called ‘best time’ to have a child, to the perceived need to minimise the length of career breaks, to the efforts devoted to maintaining productivity amid sleep deprivation, physical and mental exhaustion. Her presentation covered her journey navigating the rough waters of academia and motherhood, along with a few lessons learnt from her mistakes, with the hopes of inspiring women in academia to keep battling gender-based stereotypes in developing and sustaining careers in science.
Dr. Eva Clark on the disproportionate impact of parasitism on women and girls living in tropical regions:
Eva spoke about how women and girls living in tropical, low-resource communities are disproportionately affected by some parasitic diseases and their sequelae. Examples include female genital schistosomiasis, intestinal helminth infection, and cervical cancer risk, and in utero transmission of protozoa such as Trypanosoma cruzi and Plasmodium species. She emphasised how, as parasitologists and clinicians, we should encourage the development of public health interventions and robust research programmes that explicitly target women and girls living in tropical regions, with the goals of improving control strategies and preventing complications of parasitic infections.
Dr. Esther Kanduma on inspiring the next generation of women in STEM in Africa
Esther highlighted the need to actively mentor and build a critical mass of future women in science to strengthen the capacity of women scientists in Africa. Several factors contribute to, or inhibit, education and participation of women in STEM in Africa including a lack of capacity to support STEM learning, patriarchal perceptions of STEM professions, and a paucity of women scientist mentors, among others. As part of efforts to address these challenges, the African Schools Outreach Programme (ASOP) was established in 2019 by the International Veterinary Vaccinology Network (IVVN) in collaboration with Easter Bush Science Outreach Centre (EBSOC), African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD), African Vaccinology Network (AfVANET), International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), and various universities across Africa. The ASOP has equipped a group of African women scientists with relevant skills and resources to mentor the next generation of scientists via school hands-on engagement workshops. These activities aim to build scientific capacity, strengthen infectious disease/vaccine knowledge, provide analytical skills, and influence attitudes of girls towards science courses and careers, thereby increasing the number of women scientists in Africa.
This session was generously supported by Elsevier, The International Journal for Parasitology, PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases, The International Veterinary Vaccinology Network (IVVN), The University of Galway College of Science and Engineering and the School of Natural Sciences.