Inspiring meeting in Spain

Gender equality has been a priority in Spain the last years. But in the research sector little has changed. At the conference Women’s Worlds in Madrid Spanish scientists were inspired by Norway.

August 21, 2008

“The work that Norway does with regard to gender equality in science is of great interest to us here in Spain,” says Maria Josefa Yzuel, a physicist and a professor of optics at the University of Barcelona.

Maria Josefa Yzuel is a physicist and a professor of optics at the University of Barcelona.

Yzuel is highly recognized for her research in Spain and she has worked with gender equality in science for a number of years. This month she was one of the speakers at the conference Women’s Worlds in Spain.

Yzuel thinks that both the establishment of the Committee for Mainstreaming – Women in Science (the Kif Committee) by the Ministry of Education and Research and the Gender Equality Award are interesting from a Spanish perspective.

“I believe in positive measures. The Gender Equality Award is a good idea because it rewards institutions that act, thus encouraging them to compete on gender equality,” Yzuel said.


A lot has happened on the gender equality front in Spain over the last years. The country got a new gender equality act in March 2007 which amongst other things states that the ratio of women on boards and committees can’t be less than 40 per cent.

In April 2007 new amendments to the university act were implemented. These emphasize the importance of gender balance in the governing departments of the research sector, of promoting mixed-gender research communities and of establishing separate units that will work with gender equality at the universities.

Still, Yzuel is not all too optimistic about the future.

“At the moment I am a bit pessimistic. Merely implementing a law is not good enough. Today the gender equality work within science is largely based on volunteers. There needs to be a departmental unit that works with these issues and the institutions must be forced to prioritize gender equality,” she says.

Use the opportunity

The conference Women’s Worlds in Madrid gathered over 2500 people for one week. Spain’s new Minister for Equality Bibiana Aido and representatives for the Ministry of Research and Innovation were amongst the participants.

“I think you should take advantage of the attention surrounding the conference and use it to put pressure on the authorities,” said the head of the Kif Committee Gerd Bjørhovde to the Spanish organizers.

Gerd Bjørhovde and Maria Josefa Yzuel met at the Women’s Worlds conference in Madrid in July (photo: Marte Ericsson Ryste).

Bjørhovde, who was one of the main organizers of the Women’s Worlds conference in Tromsø, believes that these conferences lead to an increased interest in women’s and gender equality issues and that they can create new opportunities.

“Be ambitious, don’t just make one demand - make three,” was her message.

Professor in physics Eloìsa Lòpez Pèrez at the University of Madrid, who was in charge of the seminars on science and technology at the conference, said that the organizers will convene after the conference in order to draw some conclusions about the different topics.

“We will consider using the Norwegian suggestions,” she said.

Maria Josefa Yzuel agreed.

“Perhaps this is the time to put pressure on the authorities.”


At a meeting on gender mainstreaming in science led by the Norwegian Kif Committee Bjørhovde presented the work that is being done in Norway. Female scientists and gender equality workers from a number of countries participated, and the Norwegian measures were met with great interest.

Gerd Bjørhovde (photo: Marte Ericsson Ryste).

Bjørhovde finds this very pleasing.

“Part of our job is to work internationally and we take that task seriously,” she says.

She says that the committee receives a lot of attention outside of Norway and that many groups follow their work and are waiting to see the outcome.

“The attention is inspiring to us. But we also want to convey that we are not necessarily doing everything the right way. Different countries are in different situations and we need to talk to each other. Establishing an international network also furthers our own work.”

Bjørhovde thinks it could be interesting to stay in touch with their Spanish colleagues and says that the committee, if asked, will act as a sounding board.

Translated by Vigdis Isachsen

Women's Worlds

The Committee for Mainstreaming – women in science arranged a meeting on gender mainstreaming in science at the Women’s Worlds conference in Madrid. The conference gathered more than 2500 participants and lasted from July 3 to July 9. The head of the Kif Committee Gerd Bjørhovde presented the work of the Norwegian committee together with committee member Eva Skærbæk, senior adviser to the committee Linda Rustad, and gender equality adviser at NTNU Svandis Benediktsdottir.