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Nemenzo on gender equity in science and mathematics

“What is your idea of gender equality? Does this mean that men and women are equal in all things?” so asked Prof. Fidel R. Nemenzo, D. Sc., during a talk on “Gender, Science and Mathematics,” on September 30, 2016 at the Interactive Learning Center, UP Visayas Miagao campus.

He explained that gender equality does not mean that men and women are equal in all things, because according to him, there are obviously clear differences between men and women.  

Rather he explained that gender equality means that the rights, the roles, responsibilities and opportunities given to every individual should not depend on that individual’s gender.

“The issue of gender inequality is actually a concern of both men and women because men like women are affected negatively by gender discrimination. It creates unrealistic demands on men and women requiring us to behave in narrowly-defined ways,” he elaborated.

“Where are women in the history of science and mathematics?” he asked.

Nemenzo pointed out that history is written by white, Western men and is dominated their victories such that even in the history of science and mathematics, the achievements of women are largely ignored, unreported and unrecognized.

He showed slides of women scientists and mathematicians who were not given their due recognition. He cited Sonja Kovalevsky, first major Russian female mathematician responsible for several important original contributions to analysis and partial differential equations and French mathematician Sophie Germain who fought against the social prejudices during her time and is best known for her work in number theory and elasticity.

Nemenzo also recounted the sad story of Rosalind Franklin who made a crucial contribution to the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA. Her male colleagues Francis Harry Compton Crick, James Dewey Watson and Maurice Hugh Frederick Wilkins were jointly given the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1962. After her death, Crick acknowledged that Franklin’s contribution was critical to the discovery.

“Unfortunately, the Nobel does not give posthumous awards,” lamented Nemenzo.

Then there is the story of Albert Einstein’s first wife, mathematician Mileva Marić who according to some references made a great contribution to his theories such as the theory of relativity.

He also acknowledged the work Dr. Lourdes Cruz who made scientific contributions to the biochemistry field of conotoxins, specifically the toxins of the venom of the marine snail Conus geographus and helped develop conotoxins for the purpose biochemical probes in examining the activities of the human brain.

Whereas math and sciences are considered as objective subjects, he said the way they are taught is not. He explained that the teaching of math and sciences are social activities and the ones that teach them bring their own views and biases. He added that gender equity should also be advocated in these fields.

Nemenzo is a professor at the Institute of Mathematics, UP Diliman and is currently its Vice-Chancellor for Research Development. The lecture was organized by the UP Visayas Gender and Development Program. (By: Lyncen M. Fernandez)

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