FAPESP and the Sustainable Development Goals

Leaders of higher education institutions meet to discuss equity and diversity policies

Leaders of higher education institutions meet to discuss equity and diversity policies

Rectors, vice-rectors, pro-rectors and heads of department at universities in São Paulo state established Rede Equidade as a force for formulating and promoting equity programs that take into account the links between gender and other differences and inequalities (image: screenshot taken from live stream of the event)

Published on 03/20/2023

By Maria Fernanda Ziegler  |  Agência FAPESP – Leaders of higher education institutions (HEIs) in São Paulo state are joining forces to ensure that gender equity policies are more effectively implemented by universities and schools in the state.

On International Women’s Day (March 8), rectors, vice-rectors, pro-rectors and heads of department met at an event hosted by the State University of Campinas (UNICAMP) and streamed live on YouTube to discuss the creation of Rede Equidade (Equity Network) as a force for formulating and promoting equity programs that take into account the links between gender and other differences and inequalities. 

Each institution’s program will draw up an action plan to put these principles into practice. The event was attended by leaders of the University of São Paulo (USP), São Paulo State University (UNESP), the Federal University of São Paulo (UNIFESP), the Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar), the Federal University of the ABC (UFABC) and the Federal Institute of São Paulo (IFSP), as well as UNICAMP.

“The time has come to harvest the fruits of the investments made in recent years with the aim of breaking down barriers and pursuing equity. It’s time for rectors, vice-rectors, pro-rectors and directors to support a policy that will orient equity plans and programs in every single one of São Paulo state’s HEIs. Plans and programs presuppose an accurate diagnosis as a basis for formulating strategies, setting targets and agreeing metrics for evaluation of the actions taken,” said Ana Maria Fonseca de Almeida, a member of the Steering Committee for FAPESP’s Special Program to Promote Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI).

“Rede Equidade has been established so that we can hear how the other universities in the state are implementing gender, equity and diversity policies internally. I leave this meeting with many ideas. UNICAMP has plenty of work to do,” said Maria Luiza Moretti, Vice-Rector of UNICAMP and its general coordinator.

The network is tasked with diagnosing the status of equity, proposing a policy, and showing that diversity benefits universities. “As we perform these tasks, we must ensure that the structures of our universities overcome fear and lack of belief that they will be much better [with gender equity and more inclusion],” said Silvia Santiago, UNICAMP’s Executive Director of Human Rights.

Overall, the analysis performed by the institutions regarding women’s access to and study at the universities shows that although in some cases there are more female than male undergraduates, graduate students and researchers, women’s share of the available jobs decreases significantly in the upper echelons of the hierarchy and power structure.

“Rede Equidade has been established on the basis of this analysis, which showed that most of the women in top management jobs at our universities are vice-rectors, leading us to engage in a dialogue to formulate a policy and take effective action,” said Raiane Assumpção, Rector of UNIFESP.

This university produces a great deal of science, with men and women accounting for about equal shares. “However, we face a daunting challenge in graduate studies, where 48.2% of the students [at UNIFESP] are women and 51.7% are men, and a breakdown by discipline shows major disparities. In technological areas, the vast majority are men, while in education, health and human sciences women predominate by far,” said Luciana Alves, UNIFESP’s Deputy Pro-Rector for Student Affairs. 

At USP, women account for 39% of faculty members overall, according to its Vice-Rector, Maria Arminda Nascimento Arruda. Of these, only 30% reach the end of their career and only 20% are appointed to senior management positions, such as department heads, pro-rectorships, vice-rectorships and rectorships.

“Women are just about in the majority among PhD students at USP [51%] and clearly predominate among postdoctoral researchers. However, there’s the other side: families are constituted while female students are doing doctoral research. It was with this in mind that we decided to increase our support via scholarships for mothers, who get six months of maternity leave but scholarships lasting only four months. We must therefore bolster our relations with funders such as FAPESP, CAPES [the Ministry of Education’s Coordination for the Improvement of Higher Education Personnel] and CNPq [the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development, an arm of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation]. We must also acknowledge that fathers have to be stimulated to take parental leave,” Arruda said.

“Many women aspire to study at a university in pursuit of their dreams of social mobility, education, socialization and research. Yet our universities frustrate the dreams of those women who want to become faculty members and scientists. Their careers don’t progress as well as men’s, regardless of the area they’re in. We must prioritize a concrete plan for inclusion of women in the professorial career and reward universities that do so.”

In May 2022, USP established a Pro-Rectorship for Inclusion and Belonging in charge of gender, ethnicity and socioeconomic affairs. It took over the activities of USP Mulheres, an office for women’s affairs set up in 2016. “Creation of the pro-rectorship was a political project. It faced considerable opposition from people who said it wouldn’t work but, on the contrary, it’s conducting several initiatives that are crucial to not just to gender equity but also equality and diversity throughout the university at all hierarchical levels,” Arruda said.

For Miriam Debieux, USP’s Deputy Pro-Rector for Inclusion and Belonging, universities should make the necessary structural and social changes, which should be extended to all of society, “because our society remains strongly patriarchal, sexist and colonial. Our actions and policies must promote cultural initiatives that change this reality for all women. There’s no such thing as real democracy with racial and gender inequality. We have a lot of work ahead of us.”

The speakers at the event highlighted the question of intersectionality, since the obstacles to women’s access to university degrees do not affect all women equally but are worse for poor, Black, Indigenous, disabled and trans women, among others.

“When we talk about women, we’re not talking about equality of conditions. On the contrary, women are divided by ethnicity, socioeconomic power and geography. We must therefore observe whether what we’re celebrating in the advancement of more women to leadership positions represents White, Black, Indigenous, and trans women,” Alves said, adding that only 30.8% of students at UNIFESP are non-White.

“Women students are a majority of non-Whites at our university, accounting for 58.27%. This reflects the fact that fewer non-White boys than girls graduate from high school,” Alves said. Women also predominate among graduate students at UNIFESP, but 73.6% are White and Asian, she added.

“We’re assembling and organizing for mutual support. There are many problems and issues we have to face, but we’ll do it like this, by helping each other and moving steadily forward,” said Ana Beatriz de Oliveira, Rector of UFSCar.

The meeting was also attended by Maysa Furlan, Vice-Rector of UNESP; Claudia Vieira, UFABC’s Pro-Rector for Community Affairs and Affirmative Policies; Ana Lanna, USP’s Pro-Rector for Inclusion and Belonging; Caroline Jango, Director General of IFSP’s Hortolândia campus; and Diana Junkes, UFSCar’s Deputy Pro-Rector of Research.

A recording of the meeting can be watched at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=5YhIdtN2eh0. 

Source: https://agencia.fapesp.br/40945