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By Karen Herland
When ACFAS took over the Université d’Ottawa earlier this month, it was a chance for those who attended to reflect on their role as educators, not just to present their research.
Two professors arranged events at the annual conference of the Association francophone pour le savoir to challenge societal and cultural norms reflected in both research assumptions and in how professors interact with students.
Françoise Naudillon, of our Département d’études françaises, was tasked in her role as responsible for women’s issues in the Féderation québecoise des professeures et professeurs d’universite (FQPPU) to prepare a special session exploring the relationship between women and science.
Even before Barbie proclaimed math class hard (and Mattel was chastised for it) there has been an assumption that women can’t excel in hard sciences.
“The ratio of women to men at the undergraduate level is nearly equal. By the time you get to the PhD level, three-quarters of the women are gone, and the numbers dip even lower among post-doctoral researchers,” said Naudillon.
Last year was the UNESCO year of physics. Within that context, the limited number of women involved in hard sciences was glaringly evident.
Last month Naudillon and another FQPPU member (Denis Belisle, of the Université de Sherbrooke) distributed a questionnaire asking women professors to discuss work/family balance in their departments. Naudillon is pleased that nearly a third of the 2 000 members have responded. Most gave their departments low marks for supporting them on that front. Equally problematic, says Naudillon, is the lack of daycare available on campus.
Naudillon underscores that although she is in the humanities, the issues are the same for academics across fields.
Meanwhile, Geneviève Rail, of UOttawa’s Health Sciences faculty organized a two-day conference on women, body and health with support from members of the UOttawa branch of the Consortium national de formation en santé and the Consortium des études féministes francophones au Québec et au Canada. Rail will be joining Concordia this July as the new principal of the Simone de Beauvoir Institute.
The event was the biggest single colloquium at ACFAS this year with 68 presenters from 30 universities representing four different countries.
The conference looked at the relationship between women and science from many different angles. At the outset, they challenged traditional assumptions that women’s sole relationship to health would be from a ‘natural’ caretaker position.
Building on that, presenters used research addressing youth, immigrants and sexuality to explore how this bias reinforces and legitimates power inequalities not just between genders, but also at the level of north/south relations and via legislation and policy.
In short, the symposium was an opportunity to present the cultural assumptions and implications that stem from presumptions about women’s relationships to their bodies and lives.