The simple fact of belonging to the female sex was once a barrier, often insurmountable, to access laboratories and dedicate oneself to science. Time has passed, the contexts have changed and the discourses and perceptions on the subject, too.
The achievements recorded on an international scale by relevant women scientists show that there is no sphere where they are not important. However, the debate about how to achieve greater goals in the midst of a world that still reproduces prejudices and stereotypes in its culture is latent.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) has made gender equality a priority. Through its scientific programs it contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and helps developing countries to strengthen their technological capabilities.
According to a report published by this organization in June of last year, just over 33 percent of researchers in the world are women and only four percent of the Nobel Prizes have been awarded to female scientists.
To make them more visible, fight against the obstacles they face and inspire vocations in future generations, UNESCO annually awards the International Prize for Women and Science. It is awarded jointly with the French cosmetics company L’Oréal, whose foundation “is committed to helping women express their potential, regain control of their destiny and have a positive impact on society, through three areas of intervention : scientific research, solidarity beauty and climate change”.
Another award for Cuba
The award is given to women who have made significant contributions to scientific progress. Since its creation, in 1998, the recognition has been given to a total of 122 scientists from the five continents. In addition, the event has supported more than 3,800 young people in training from more than 110 countries.
The award winner, endowed with 100,000 euros per winner, is awarded in its 24th edition in the category of Life Sciences and the Environment.
An international jury, made up of 11 leading researchers and chaired by Brigitte Kiefer, professor at the Department of Psychiatry at McGill University in Canada and Director of Research at the National Institute for Research in Health and Medicine in France, deliberated on the 59 nominees, shortlisted from 358 candidates. They ultimately opted for only five female scientists in the entire world. Among them is a Cuban: Dr. María Guadalupe Guzmán.
“Rewarded for her pioneering work, which has allowed us to better understand and treat dengue or tropical flu. Professor Guzmán Tirado’s research has allowed a better understanding of the pathogenesis of dengue, the treatment of its symptoms and its prevention”, reads the statement of the contest that awarded the prize for Latin America to the director of the Center for Research, Diagnosis and Reference of the Pedro Kouri Institute of Tropical Medicine (IPK).
Lupeas her colleagues and friends know her, is the first Caribbean woman to win this award, whose delivery ceremony will take place this month in Paris.
While that moment arrives, the image of the Cuban scientist is already common among visitors who arrive in the City of Light, since a huge full-color poster with her figure adorns the Charles de Gaulle International Airport.
María Guadalupe Guzmán Tirado is a doctor, microbiologist, virologist; one of the unmistakable female faces of Cuban science in recent times.
Many consider her one of the most authoritative voices to talk about dengue. Her research has contributed to the diagnosis, vaccine and control of this disease, and also of Zika.
Her successful journey through the world of science, specifically that of virology, has led her to assume responsibilities that seem like a lot for one person:
She is president of the Cuban Society of Microbiology and Parasitology; director of the PAHO/WHO Collaborating Center for the study of dengue and its control; Honorary Member of the Cuban Society of Immunology; of the Council of the International Society for Infectious Diseases; and the jury that awards the Carlos Juan Finlay Microbiology Prize, from UNESCO.
She is also a Merit Academician of the Academies of Sciences of Cuba, of Sciences of the Developing World (TWAS) and of the Organization of Third World Women in Science (TWOS).
In addition, she is part of the Advisory Committee on Dengue Vaccines of the World Health Organization (WHO) and was included in the WHO Scientific Advisory Group on the Origin of New Pathogens, to investigate the origin of the SARS-CoV virus. -two.
He also has the authorship of more than 300 scientific articles and short publications, including two hypotheses, seven patents and 20 book chapters. At the same time, she has taught, as Full Professor, more than 130 courses in Cuba, the United States and other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. She is also a mother, grandmother, sister, daughter… a source of pride for science in the largest of the Antilles.
only five women
The L’Oréal-Unesco Women and Science Award recognizes women scientists from five geographical areas. In addition to María Guadalupe Guzmán for Latin America, the Hungarian biochemist Katalin Kariko was honored for North America.
The adjunct associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania, in the United States, and senior vice president of the pharmaceutical company BioNTech, was rewarded for her contribution to perfecting the technology called messenger RNA. Her work allowed her to take a decisive step in the creation of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines against covid-19.
For Asia and the Pacific, Chinese neuroscientist Hailan Hu, professor and executive director of the Center for Neuroscience at Zhejiang University School of Medicine, won the award.
According to the jury’s opinion, he is recognized “for his important discoveries in neuroscience, in particular on depression, which paved the way for the development of new generation antidepressants.”
Meanwhile, pediatrician Agnes Binagwaho, vice-chancellor of the University for Global Health Equity in Kigali, Rwanda, won the award for the African continent and the Arab States “for her role in launching a new public health system for most vulnerable in Africa, particularly in Rwanda. Her work enabled better access to HIV, malaria and tuberculosis services.”
Finally, Europe was represented by the Spanish molecular biologist Ángela Nieto, professor at the Institute of Neurosciences of Alicante.
Nieto was distinguished for her discoveries on how cells change identity in the course of embryonic development. According to the jury, her work has paved the way for the development of new therapeutic approaches in the treatment of cancer and its spread to other tissues.
“The growing role of women in science is a challenge for equality, but also a contribution to humanity, as the winners of the L’Oreal-Unesco Women and Science Award demonstrate. Their example encourages girls and women around the world to pursue scientific careers,” said Audrey Azoulay, director general of the multilateral organization, an organization convinced that “the world needs science and science needs women.”
Just this message today accompanies María Guadalupe Guzmán Tirado, Lupe, the Cuban scientist who adorns the Charles de Gaulle in Paris with her image.
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A Cuban scientist at the Charles de Gaulle | bohemian magazine