Gender Inequality in the Academic Scene

Silvana Quiton (ESR1)



Gender equality is a right; however, despite it seeming obvious, it is still a critical challenge that directly impacts water management. Water and gender interlinkages show that gender equity is fundamental to access sustainable water, sanitation, and hygiene (Pouramin et al., 2020). Traditionally, the water sector has been led by men, namely as water provision and sanitation was linked to engineering and technology that included very little female representation. Currently, even if the position of women was generally improved over the years, recent reports have shown that the COVID-19 pandemic is widening gender inequalities and even reverting the progress regarding women’s rights and opportunities (UN WOMEN, 2021).

In my personal experience, initially I did not have a clear academic perspective or role model that would engage me into the world of science. If you had asked my teenage self “how do you see yourself in your thirties?”, I would have probably told you “Married with kids”. However, my life took another path which meant going out of my comfort zone and changing my priorities. Now, I’m about to get my PhD title in a foreign country as part as a cutting-edge training program on water treatment. I surely embraced the life I had so far, and I’ve had numerous experiences that bought me a lot of personal and professional satisfaction. However, I cannot help to wonder to what extent my experience was affected by my gender and if my path would have been easier if I were a man.

In Bolivia, I’m one of the exemptions when it comes to career choices, particularly by the fact of going abroad to find another type of professional perspective. Most of the women I know from my hometown had already married and had kids by my age and embraced the family life more than their professional careers. Initially, my personal experience appeared like an isolated matter. Still, I soon realized that was not the case. As I moved on through life, I became aware of other women experiences and that ultimately, the gender disparity is a global matter. Although nowadays there’s been an effort to balance gender roles, at domestic and professional levels, the truth of the matter is that women make greater family sacrifices to get ahead in academia (Mason et al., 2013).


No Voice, No Representation

Global stats show that women only represent 33% of research positions and are awarded less with research funding than men (UN WOMEN, 2022).

Women in leading academic roles are distinctly underrepresented, which can directly impact decision making and project implementation. In countries like USA, leadership positions are majority occupied by men even though women outnumber men in earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees (AAUW, 2022). In Galicia, the region I’m currently living in, the underrepresentation of women is also a critical challenge. It has been stated that women represent only 20% of the academic body in universities and research centers (El espanol, 2022).

In Bolivia, my country, there are very few studies with a gender perspective that analyze the inequality among STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) professionals. However, there are glaring underrepresentation’s of women from leadership positions in political and professional arenas, especially regarding STEM areas.

Studies have underlined that the dominant factors that affected women’s participation in STEM were the influence of the immediate environment, lack of role models and self-perception (Rosales, 2020).

Moreover, female academics that can go past their PhDs through their tenure tracks, find yet another gender disparity, that is between maternity and paternity. Mason et al., (2013), explore the latter issue and finally point to an interesting discrepancy:

“While having a family is often perceived as sign of reduced commitment to the job on the part of the female academic, yet is valued as a sign of heightened responsibility on the part of the male academic”

Data to back up these arguments is easy to find. In Spain, according to the Ministry of Science and innovation (2017), the female academic dropout rate is around 50% after the first child. This is unfortunate for the water sector, as evidence shows that water projects can become more effective when women participate (Kholif & Elfarouk, 2014). Gender norms often dictate the male and female engagement in practical water management. For example, in development countries, women are often in charge of the domestic usage of water. Therefore, gender-sensitive responses would generate benefits for the whole of society (Romanello et al., 2021)


Solutions to Pursue

Fortunately, I have seen many initiatives to promote the presence of women in STEM areas, including at my university in Spain where they try to boost female participation and within our Nowelties project, where the female representation is balanced regarding PhD candidates. However, numbers show that even though the parity of gender at a bachelors or PhD studies is somehow similar, female representation dramatically decreases after women have their first child.

Therefore, efforts to retain women participation in academic environments must be increased. Providing equal opportunities, closing the wage gap, and ensuring practical solutions for maternity challenges (such as on campus daycare, extended paternity leaves, etc.) could help retain staff and establish an equitable working environment and ultimately avoid a brain shortage of female representation within the academic field.

Achieving gender equality while empowering women is fundamental to reach all 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as its impact is transversal across all other goals (UN WOMEN, 2022). Moreover, having a gender perspective for the application of grants and projects is of pivotal importance to tackle gender gap, especially regarding the training of highly skilled water professionals. In addition, it is now widely accepted that climate change amplifies gender inequities (Romanello et al.,2021). The latter is of relevance as we know that in countries from the southern hemisphere, women are responsible for water collection and usage at a household and community level. As women are the main responsible for water management day to day (Ray, 2007).

What to do? We can first raise awareness of gender inequalities, we can raise visibility of women as role models in STEM, we can aim for equity in our professional and personal life, we can tackle gender stereotypes in girls’ and boys’ education and career interests! Promoting gender equity while also empowering women as the key players for achieving sustainability might as well be our best weapon to better water management.


Mason, M.A., Wolfinger, N.H. and Goulden, M., 2013. Do babies matter? Gender and family in the ivory tower. Rutgers University Press.
Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovación. Gobierno de España. Científicas en Cifras 2017.
Mohammed T. Kholif, Ahmed M. Elfarouk. 2014. Activating the role of women in water projects,
Water Science, Volume 28.
Ray, Isha. 2007. Women, Water, and Development. Annual Review of Environment and Resources, Volume 32.
Rosales,M.A. 2020. Relationship between the inclusion and abandonment of young women in STEM & TIC careers and areas. Instituto de Investigaciones en Ciencia y Tecnología, Universidad La Salle-Bolivia.
Romanello, M., McGushin, A., Di Napoli, C., Drummond, P., Hughes, N., Jamart, L., et al. 2021.
The 2021 report of the Lancet Countdown on health and climate change: code red for a healthy future.
Smolarek, Bailey. 2019. The Hidden Challenges for Successful First-Generation Ph.D.s
The American Association of University Women. (2022, May 4). “Too Many Glass Ceilings Remain Unbroken” (Retrieved last on 4/5/2022).
UN WOMEN. 2021. Progress on the Sustainable Development Goals the Gender Snapshot 2021
UN WOMEN (2022, Feb 9). “In focus: International Day of Women and Girls in Science” (Retrieved on 4/5/2022).
“Las mujeres solo representan un 20% de las académicas de la Academia Galega de Ciencias”. (2022, Feb 9). El espanol: Quincemil. on 4/5/2022).


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