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In the opening session of the first conference of the Portuguese Association of Scientist Women, Mariano Gago, Minister of Science, Technology and Higher Education pointed the lack of human resources in Science and Technology in the European Union as a barrier to the development of a more competitive knowledge based society.

His words were: “In 2010, according to the Lisbon Strategy 8 in each 1000 Europeans should pursue research careers while only 5 make this professional choice now. Today, we know and all economic studies state that Europe will need about half a million of scientists to maintain its level of competitiveness and of qualified employment. Where will they come from? They hardly will come from other than zones of the European society that now are not employing scientists, in particular women scientists. If the number of women scientists would increase from 10% to 15%, a great deal of the problem would be solved”.

In the European area, women are the majority of the Higher Education students but they are too the minority of those who opt for a research career. This is a reality in the largest Member States of the European Union.

The Minister Gago continued: “We are aware that today in Europe the number of Women in science is very small and that without solving this problem in many European countries, in fact in most of them, it is not possible to expect a significant raise in the number of researchers in Europe. People may not be aware of this fact but the percentage of women scientists that work in a country like Germany does not overpasses 16%. Fortunately, in Portugal the situation is different. The situation in Portugal is one of the best in whole Europe. According to the latest statistics, Portugal has 43% of women scientists and if we think in terms of scientists less than 40 years old we have about the same number of man and women.»

The Minister continues: “why are politicians concerned by this problem? Obviously, by moral and political reasons, then because it is awkward (the least we can say) that women be exclude from scientific professions in so many countries. Why are they excluded? Because conciliating a demanding job like scientist with maternity and family life, is very difficult in those countries. At the moment, this is considered a serious problem in Europe.”

Aware of the gap existing in Portugal by the absence of a forum where Women Scientists could optimise their capacity of intervention in the society in an organized way, a group of scientists founded on the 4th of November 2004 the Portuguese Association of Women Scientists – AMONET.

The Association is inspired by the principles expressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in European Constitution, namely in what concerns eliminating all kinds of discrimination and the promotion of equal rights and opportunities for women and men.

The conference to which refer the words of the Minister of Science, Technology and Higher Education was the first public act of the Association.

Lídia Ferreira, Vice-president of the association said: «In spite of the large percentage of women, their participation in the society is minor. When will we see women in power or in political careers? As you know, the percentage is very low. And, even in science, if we look at the statistics, the number of women that reach top or deciding positions in their career is low. Moreover, in spite of the 50% of scientists who have international recognition and prestigious CVs in specific fields being women, they are seldom invited to participate in discussions concerning their specific field. This happens because power is in men’s hands in most places.»

Data recently published in “She Figures 2006” by EUROSTAT confirm the statements made by the Minister Mariano Gago, with Portugal occupying the fourth place in the ranking of countries with more women in science in Europe. Graphics also show that Portugal is one of the most advanced countries in what concerns parity.

Further useful information for Women Scientists

AMONET – The Portuguese Association of Scientist Women has members in every Portuguese town with university.

Please visit its website http://www.amonet.pt and contact them in order they put you in contact with colleagues from the town of your interest who may answer to questions related to the working and living environment of women researchers at that place.

For practical issues connected to women researchers daily life like babysitting or nurseries, please contact the Researcher’s Mobility Centre of the area.