This July 18 marks the 123rd anniversary of the discovery of polonium made by Marie and Pierre Curie. A few months later, they would announce the discovery of radium. The character of Maria Sklodowska, better known as Marie Curie, is, as my dear friend and professor of Applied Mathematics Francisco Michavilla points out, “the exalted symbol of the scientific emigrant”. But it is also, for most of us, a spur in our struggle for a more egalitarian society. Maria, the first female professor at the Sorbonne, the first person to receive two Nobel Prizes, but who in her own country and in her time, was unable to access university as a student, and years later, was also denied your access as a teacher. And it is that Maria, always questioned about her gender, her origin, her ethnicity, even her personal relationships, never had it easy.
Maria Sklodowska won her first Nobel Prize in 1903, and since then, only 23 women have won this award in the disciplines of Physics, Chemistry or Medicine compared to more than 500 men who have. With good reason, Virginia Woolf, already a century ago, claimed the voice and the public role of women, denouncing that Anonymous had been a woman’s name for most of history.
We face a universal problem, the fruit of our history. Even today, only 28% of all researchers in the world are women. And the young women who study degrees and scientific-technical cycles are still a minority. Despite the fact that more than 50% of university students in our country are women, only 25% of those who study Engineering or Architecture are, according to data from the Institute for Women. In careers like Computer Science, that percentage drops to 12%. The gender gap is present in all scientific-technological disciplines and at all stages, and appears as a prelude to a subsequent wage gap and poverty that extends throughout life. Hence, the need to strengthen the leadership of women, to make them visible, to turn them into references.
Emily Dickinson used to say that women ignore our true stature until we are called to stand up. That is why it is necessary to incorporate the gender perspective into our system, and for our society to recover the female talent that we are losing, as the director of the CNIO María Blasco and the award-winning mathematician Marta Macho denounced in this same newspaper. Those who today despise this look and say, “at the same time”, defend STEM, scientific-technical teachings, show that they either do not understand or, what is worse, that once again they intend to use education with individuals and dark intentions.
Our civilization is based on knowledge, a synthesis of skills, content and values. Therefore, our educational system must take that perspective into account. The school is not looking for a mere mechanical, empty and fragile instruction. We want it to provide all students with sufficient competencies on solid and universally accepted values. Feigning dissent on those values to gain political gain from discontent or concern is simply unacceptable. They appear formulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, an abc that, by agreement of the most important international organizations, we have broadened and deepened. And let us remind those who bet on a return to barbarism, that a society that excludes these, that is sustained by contempt for them, is doomed to conflict and failure.
The essayist and geopolitical analyst Pankay Mishra explains that democracy is the institutionalized search for equality. Today and here we have proposed that our sons and daughters, regardless of gender, origin or social condition, have full access to the knowledge provided by the educational system. Let us not detach the Marías from our own country, let us not make their access to knowledge more difficult in the times in which they have lived, or leave them trapped under inhuman glass ceilings. Let us make education contemporary and approach the formation of our sons and daughters with an open head, hands and heart to promote their integral and full development.
Isabel Celaá is former Minister of Education and Vocational Training (2018-2021).