June 25, 1678 Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia graduated in philosophy atUniversity of Padua. She is the first female graduate in the world. After Elena you will need to wait more than fifty years for another woman to graduate: Laura Bassi will reach this milestone a Bologna in 1732, where he will also obtain a doctoral degree and free teaching. Un distant world, where conditions of gender and social background drew substantially impassable boundaries for access to the intellectual world. A symbol, today, through which to reflect on the contemporary condition of women in universities. Ilfattoquotidiano.it ha asked the opinion of Carlotta Sorbafull professor atUniversity of Padua, member of the Board of Directors of the “Elena Cornaro. Knowledge, cultures and gender policies “, and of Eleonora Carinciresearcher at the University of Oslo, recently author of a chapter on Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia, in the text by Andrea Martini and Carlotta Sorba, The University of Women: Academics and students from the seventeenth century to today (Donzelli, 2021).
Historically, what have been the direct steps in the path of greater accessibility for women to the intellectual world?
Eleonora Carinci: Speaking more generally of the intellectual world and not strictly of the academic one, the Renaissance undoubtedly marked an important passage. At this time, the greater usability of literature, thanks to movable type and printing, has allowed greater accessibility of resources. In those years, women also began to write, to publish, often talking about the importance of a greater extension of women’s education. Figures such as Elena Cornaro Piscopia were in fact a strong exception to the normative model: on the one hand they confirmed this distance with their “exceptionality”, on the other they opened a breach for reasoning on the relationship between women and the intellectual world.
Carlotta Sorba: After a first moment of openness to women within the intellectual world during the Renaissance and up to 1700, it is interesting to note the subsequent caesura. In fact, starting from the late 700, in parallel with the age of the Enlightenment and the great revolutions, the season of citizenship began, but specifically, of male citizenship. This historical passage has determined the construction of a rigid separation between a male public sphere and a private, domestic, female sphere. It will then be necessary to arrive at the late 1800s for a gradual opening of higher education to women, within a path that is not linear at all. In Italy, for example, the first ISTAT survey on the number of women enrolled at university recorded just over 200, far fewer than men enrolled. However, to date the trend has reversed and in 1990-1991, for the first time there was a greater number of women and, moreover, women seem to have better academic results. However, huge gender disparities remain in the accessibility of major career positions.
From the report drawn up by the National University Council (Cun) in December 2020, a strong gender disparity emerged within universities, especially in relation to some issues such as precariousness and significant forms of horizontal segregation (women seem more present only in some sectors) and vertical (women rarely hold top positions in university hierarchies). Where are we today? Are active policies needed to promote greater gender equality?
EC: Of course, there is still a lot to do. Compared to previous years, a change of pace is perceptible, linked to the greater evidence of the problem. However, there is often a lack of useful infrastructure, as well as a serious redistribution of care work between genders. I believe it is necessary to act in terms of active policies but, above all, I believe that a long and parallel work for a transformation of the female imagination from below is really central, with the aim of deconstructing models that are socially constructed but also individually internalized by the women themselves.
CS: Personally I believe that active policies represent an important tool since, to date, there is greater sensitivity and there have been improvements but the gender gap is still relevant. In particular, the logic of segregation is evident, horizontal, especially with regard to STEM, and vertical. On this last point and taking the case of Padua, it is possible to note how much the gap between genders increases in career progression: for example, we have more female students than students, but the male gender returns to the majority in doctorates, research grants, research contracts of type a and b, in the careers of full professors.
The Gender Equality Plan (GEP) is a strategic and operational document prepared for the elimination of gender imbalances, a requirement for access to funding prepared by the EU Research Framework Program Horizon Europe, in implementation of the Gender Equality Strategy 2020- 2025 of the Commission. How does it work? What prospects does it open?
EC: The GEP is an important tool, in line with the need to formulate active policies. I believe that the greatest attention must be paid to avoiding the risk of its bureaucratization and its eventual flattening into a device for raising funds.
CS: The GEP tool, associated with an accurate analysis of the gender budget, can prove to be an important opportunity for intervention, as is happening in Padua. Here, we are promoting initiatives for greater work-life balance and to reduce horizontal and vertical segregation. I am referring, for example, to the University kindergarten, for all staff. We then structured a series of measures that promote women’s accessibility to STEM and women’s academic careers. Furthermore, with the “Elena Cornaro” University Center, we have promoted a course aimed at everyone and everyone on the subject of “Gender, equality and social justice”.
The pandemic has made even more evident the difficulties involved in reconciling research work and care work. In this sense, the extension of Smart working also takes on the double face of risk and resource. What would it take for a greater redistribution of care work between genders?
EC: The pandemic has certainly made evident a series of already structured dynamics. In general, the crux of the greater workload on women remains, even where there is greater parental collaboration. In this sense, Smart working represents a very delicate issue that would require more in-depth study and institutional discussion. The central point, however, remains that of a necessary deconstruction of the cultural imaginary on the feminine, which continues to move within a dialectic that does not abandon the idea of the angel of the hearth.
CS: Thinking in terms of a greater balance between life and work and a reduction in gender disparities implies a strong transversal nature of themes, areas, environments. More generally, as far as the Academy is concerned, with the “Elena Cornaro. Knowledge, cultures and gender policies ”, we drafted a manifesto“ For a caring university ”. The boundary between home and academy is effectively blurred, in relation to Smart working and all the complications that this implies. We still need a deep reflection on the issue but I believe that recognizing the more widespread awareness of the risks it implies can be a good starting point today.