“Too good to be… a woman”
“In the 10th century, in the Benedictine Abbey of Saxony
–one of the free states of Germany– Hroswita’s philosophy,
mathematics and medicine studies revealed intelligence and education.
But according to some 16th century historians: ‘The author’s Latin is too perfect; it was unquestionably a man with a female pseudonym. Unquestionably.”

(At the time, the medical tasks, especially after the crusades, were performed by nuns and abbesses.)
Valeria Eldesztein, Female Scientists. They cook, clean and win the Nobel prize (and nobody knows)

In 2015, through aUnited Nations’ resolution,February 11th was established as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science , in recognition of the key role women play in the scientific and technological community.

Today, in the face of a strong social demand for the recognition of women’s rights -historically subsumed to an unequal relation to men’s-, gender inequality is still persistent and there is no equal access to power and decision-making positions.

The fields of science, technology, engineering and math –known collectively as STEM– are still a stronghold, among others, where male presence is predominant.

Despite the effort of the international community and the work of different organizations that promote women’s and girls’ access to education, training, research and participation in scientific fields at all levels, there are still established cultural barriers that prevent the eradication of this prejudice.

According to UNESCO data, only about 30 per cent of all female students choose to pursue higher education in a STEM field.

Both science and gender equality have always been core issues at the United Nations, particularly in terms of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) defined by the 2030 Agenda. That is why highlighting the work of female scientists; fostering the access, full involvement and empowerment of women and girls in science; and promoting the research and creation of female roles in STEM fields, are some of the premises on which UNESCO policies are based.

Female scientists who changed history

Although their contribution to science has not been acknowledged for many years, women have achieved important milestones in this field throughout history.

A list with examples from the Spanish magazine XLSemanalfollows:

  • Marie Curie: Polish physicist. She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize and the first person to win a Nobel Prize in two different fields (Physics and Chemistry). She contributed groundbreaking research on radio and radioactivity.
  • María Josefa Yzuel: The woman who changed the (social) laws of Physics. She was the first woman in Spain to be appointed Assistant Professor in the field of Physics at the university level.
  • Jane Goodall: Primatologist who revolutionized our ideas about primates six decades ago.
  • Margaret Hamilton: The woman who put men on the moon. She developed the computer software that traveled to the moon.
  • Grace Hopper: The mother of the personal computer. A brilliant mathematician, a pioneer in the world of computer science and the first programmer to use the Mark I, the first electromechanical computer developed by IBM.
  • Mary Somerville: Scottish mathematician. Her contribution to science anticipated photography. In addition to writing four books in Mathematics, Somerville studied the action of the sun on silver chloride.
  • Mary Leakey: Anthropologist from Great Britain. She found fossil footprints of three hominids that, 3.5 billion years ago, walked on two legs. A superlative breakthrough for humankind.
  • Lise Meitner: She initiated the atomic era. Her contribution to science was nuclear fission. She discovered that when a uranium nucleus is bombarded with neutrons, it splits in two: krypton and barium.

The first barrier: prejudice and stereotypes

From an early age, children are educated in accordance with roles and stereotypes that mold their interests in adult life. The toy market, for example, reproduces a binary construction of what is traditionally associated with “male” and “female”.

Following is data on Spain, provided by the  February 11 , uinitiative, a group of activists, journalists, scientists who bring to light the work of women in science:

  • When children imagine a scientist they predominantly picture it as male.
  • Only 7% of girls think that they will have a career related to science.
  • Women obtain more than 50% of university degrees, yet their representation in careers like physics or engineering does not amount to 30%.
  • This gender disparity is accentuated, moreover, when advancing in the research career.
  • Female presence is disproportionately low in nominations or achievement of scientific awards.
  • Different studies show that women and girls face the involuntary bias of evaluators. Throughout their careers, women with the same merits than men are considered less competent.

Along these lines, the UNESCO Regional Chair, Women, Science and Technology in Latin America,produced a graphic piece that, with four simple questions, bares some of the most frequent prejudices regarding women and science:

#DíaMujeryCiencia #EnClase11F #Cientificas11F

Distinguished women

Rachel Ignotofskyis an American illustrator and writer who promotes women’s rights and has popularized the work of female scientists. She is the author of Women in Science (published in English only), where she underscores the work of women who have made a milestone contribution in the field of science. Inspired by the intersection of history and science, Ignotofsky proposes to make scientific literature more accessible and available to all through illustration and the reworking of dense and complex scientific concepts.

Find more information and images from the book here

Links and related information














Rachel Ignotofsky: “Women in Sciences: 50 fearless pioneers who changed the world”, editorial Ten Speed Press, 2016.

Valeria Edelsztein: “Científicas. Cocinan, limpian y ganan el premio nobel (y nadie se entera)”, colección Ciencia que ladra…, editorial Siglo XXI, 2012.