Image: Ian Thornton, UKCDS Last week I was in Uganda for a Wellcome Trust-led meeting near the capital, Kampala. I also took the opportunity to go back to the village...
To mark International Women’s Day, I would like to celebrate my Grandma Pepita Reimundi who was an educational and political activist. She was imprisoned at the age of 19 after the Spanish Civil war due to her commitment to democracy, social justice, and the right to education for all. Whilst imprisoned she set up an education programme for inmates. Eventually, her death sentence was reduced to thirty years, of which she served seven due to the prison closing down. Upon her release she was banned from any form of teaching. After the fall of the dictatorship regime in Spain she became the Director of the Institute of Science and Education in Lleida, and subsequently founded the University of the Third Age. The university provided citizens from all backgrounds with an education. Her life service to others was celebrated through multiple awards.
There are countless examples of extraordinary women like my Grandma who dare to dream and challenge the status quo, but many are unrecognised. Only 57 women have been awarded a Nobel Prize compared to 587 men. The research sector is trying to tackle this by celebrating women from the past. Marie Curie, Florence Nightingale and Alice Ball have been added to the façade of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine’s iconic Grade II listed building, and the Little People and Big Dreams Children’s Book series are inspiring girls to follow in the footsteps of Ada Lovelace, Marie Curie and Jane Goodall. However, progress in the research sector remains disappointingly slow. According to The UNESCO Institute for Statistics only 30% of the world’s researchers are women.
The disparity goes far beyond lack of recognition. In almost every field, women are under-represented at leadership level. The Global Health 50/50 report in 2020 showed that women hold only 5% of leadership positions despite forming 70% of the workforce. Progress rates are also alarmingly slow, according to the latest World Economic Forum Global Gender Report, gender equality will be achieved beyond our lifetime- in 100 years!
It’s no secret that the pandemic has impacted women disproportionately socially and economically but also in terms of exposure risk and susceptibility to infection. Domestic violence and child marriage has increased dramatically during lockdown and we are seeing women, who often bear the brunt of childcare leave the workforce in large numbers across both low and high-income economies.
The members of our collaborative at UKCDR are committed to diversity, equality and inclusion. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office is recognised as a world leader in women empowerment through its extensive gender programming. The National Institute for Health Research introduced funding incentives in 2011 and other funders have followed suit. The Medical Council and The Wellcome Trust are working towards shifting dialogue and changing research culture towards gender.
However, if we want to see real change in our lifetime, we need to accelerate progress. This means more than gender-targeted programmes. We need to tackle stereotypes and we need an intersectional gender approach where we look at policies and decisions made through a gendered lens. We also need to remember to bring men with us on this journey!
My grandmother died at 92. I learned from her the importance of remaining positive in the face of adversity and that education is a universal right. True to her feminist spirit she gave birth to my dad on International Women’s day. So, on this day I celebrate her life and his birthday! I know I wouldn’t be where I am today without the support of my dad who was raised with my grandmother’s feminist principles and ideals.