11th February is the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. Established by the United Nations General Assembly it advocates for full and equal access to participation in scientific research.
Numerous institutions and scientific organisations across Italy will partake in initiatives, events, and meetings, both in-person and online. The social media platforms of the National Institute of Nuclear Physics are joining the #WomenInScience campaign, alongside other major international laboratories like CERN in Geneva.
Despite progress, there’s still much ground to cover, particularly evident in the underrepresentation of Italian girls in Stem subjects (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) at universities. Data from the Deloitte Stem Observatory reveals that only 14.5% of Italian female students pursue Stem degrees. This is significantly below the European average. Gender stereotypes persist in the country, deterring many from pursuing these fields of study.
Disparity in workplace and study
This disparity extends to the workforce, as highlighted in a 2023 study published in The Lancet Regional Health – Europe. Women in Europe are increasingly leaving academic careers, constituting only 33% of researchers and a mere 26% of top positions, such as full professors and research centre directors. Italy lags behind, ranking third to last in Europe.
The challenges begin early, with girls perceiving scientific subjects as less suitable for them, despite their curiosity. Initiatives, like the University of Milan’s project to support young researchers returning from maternity leave, aim to address these challenges and encourage women to pursue scientific careers. Similarly, the ‘Girls@Polimi – Scholarships for future engineers’ project at the Polytechnic of Milan aims to empower female students in Stem disciplines.
Universities, institutions, and research bodies across Italy are leveraging the Day dedicated to women and girls in science to engage them in the scientific community.
The National Institute of Nuclear Physics is hosting events from Rome to Cagliari, featuring lectures, meetings, and theatrical performances tailored for young female students.
Additionally, the National Institute of Astrophysics is organising a show titled ‘STEMmano ponno esse donne o ponno esse scientiate,’ in collaboration with the scientific dissemination project La Scienza Coatta. This event shows the contribution of women scientists to the advancement of knowledge.
Italy has a history of female scientists
It’s not as is Italy doesn’t have a history of women breaking barriers and establishing themselves as top in their STEM fields.
Trotula of Salerno (11th and 12th centuries)
Trotula was one of the most famous physicians of the time and a pioneer in women’s health. She is considered the world’s first gynaecologist.
Elena Cornaro Piscopia (1646 -1684)
Piscopia was a Venetian mathematician and the first woman in the world to officially receive a university degree. She graduated from Padua university in 1678.
Laura Bassi (1711 – 1778)
Bassi was an Italian physicist and academic. She was the first woman to have a doctorate in science and the second woman in the world to earn the Doctor of Philosophy degree.
Maria Gaetana Agnesi (1718 – 1799)
Credit goes to Agnesi for writing the first book discussing both differential and integral calculus. She was an honorary member of the faculty at the University of Bologna.
Samantha Cristoforetti (1977)
Cristoforetti is a European Space Agency astronaut, former Italian Air Force pilot and engineer. She holds the record for the longest uninterrupted spaceflight by a European astronaut (199 days, 16 hours). Cristoforetti took command of ISS Expedition 68 in 2022.