Interview with Maria Zaira Turchi, president of FAPEG and vice-president of CONFAP - International Women's day

Categories: Meet the researchers

To celebrate the International Women's Day, EURAXESS Links talked to female scientists from various different countries all over the world to hear their stories. What made them chose a career in science? Which obstacles are they facing in their profession? What solutions do they see to foster women participation in science and how mobility can held with this regard.

In Brazil, EURAXESS Links Brazil decided to feature a special interview with a Brazilian researcher and decision maker. Professor Maria Zaira Turchi is an experienced researcher, but is also president of the State of Goias Research Foundation (FAPEG) and vice-president of the Brazilian Council for the State Funding Agencies (CONFAP).

About Maria Zaira Turchi

Maria Zaira Turchi was born on 17th July, 1955, in Goiânia, Goiás, Brazil. Holds a PhD in Literature (1999) and is a Professor at the Federal University of Goiás - UFG. At the University she has served as Coordinator of Postgraduate Programmes and as Dean of Faculty of Linguistics and Literature. She is a researcher in the fields of literary criticism and anthropology with books and papers published. Currently she is President of Goiás State Research Foundation - FAPEG, and Vice-President of the Brazilian National Council for the State Funding Agencies - CONFAP. Click here to contact Prof Maria Zaira Turchi.


Professor Turchi, besides your position as vice-president of the Brazilian Council for the State Funding Agencies (CONFAP), you are also president of the State of Goias Research Foundation (FAPEG). Tell us a little bit about your roles and responsibilities.

As president of the Goiás State Research Foundation, I am responsible for leading FAPEG in its mission to promote and support scientific research, technology and innovation in the State of Goiás. The presidency plays an executive role leading the scientific research policy in the state. It also set agreements, memorandum of understanding (MoUs) and national and international partnerships to carry out actions and programmes in line with the local scientific community’s needs.

Assignments are diverse, especially for being responsible for all decisions within the funding process. Moreover, as President I participate in various councils and meetings with agencies and institutions at national and state level. I also maintain a permanent dialogue with universities and science and technology institutions.

As vice president of CONFAP, I assist the President with whom I also share responsibilities of the position. CONFAP has had a significant role in the organisation and articulation of Brazil`s science and technology system, bringing together the various states in joint actions. The Council established a stronger and wider dimension of the Brazilian science.

What made you chose a career in science? And what made you engage in ST&I promotion at the FAPEG?

The decision for a career in science is deeply connected to my choice to pursue a teaching career.

My strong conviction of the importance of education and the value of knowledge to society defined my decision to be a university professor and researcher. I would even say that this career in part of my DNA.

My parents were professors, and my mother was one of the first women to earn the title of Doctor in the State of Goiás. My three sisters and I all followed a career in science, although in different areas of knowledge.

My father was Italian, from a peasant family and became a great teacher. He was also very proud of his five women scientists and professors.

Briefly, how would you describe the current status of the women engaged in science, technology, and innovation in Brazil and Goiás more specifically?

The engagement of women in Science, Technology and Innovation is significant today. In Brazil and Goiás, an important number of female researchers have recognized expertise and performance in universities and research centres in equivalent tot hat of men. This equivalence in leading research development is confirmed by the calls results that include many research projects led by women, demonstrating technical competence and competitiveness in scientific development.

In the case of Goiás, there is a prominent involvement of women in the biological and health areas. I think that women have built a tradition in research, just to name the progresses achieved by Marie Curie. Nowadays, we have senior scientists and young talented women coordinating large and relevant research for science development in different areas of knowledge.

What are the greatest challenges female scientists face?

I believe that the challenges in conducting research are the same for female and male scientists. In Brazil, these challenges are related to guaranteeing funding, having an adequate laboratory infrastructure, dealing with legislation and bureaucracy incompatible with the demands of science, establishing strong international dialogues and insuring visibility to scientific results.

Do you believe that there is a process of feminization of decision making positions in science?

Women scientists in Brazil have proven track record recognised and respected at universities, research institutes and laboratories of excellence. However, this trajectory achieved by women in science is not repeated in the occupation of power, prestige and decision-making positions. Academies of Sciences around the world, for example, are composed of a much larger number of male scientists than female scientists. The Academies could play an important role in gender equality by nominating more women amongst their members and thus increasing their visibility.

Aditionally, the representation of women is also very small in policy and decision-making positions. For instance, only three out of the twenty-six State Foundations for Research Support (FAPs) in Brazil are led by women.

The empowerment of women to occupy decision making positions is still an important challenge to overcome.

What would you recommend to foster women’ s careers in science?

As I mentioned, today scientist women conquered recognized trajectories in terms of academic and scientific merit. Induction into a scientific career in Brazil should first meet the need for a quality basic education, especially in public schools, including scientific training. Encouraging young talents to engage in science even at the basic educational level would bring more opportunities in following the path of science. Amongst the most excluded population, women tend to be even more disadvantaged. Therefore, stimulating scientific research in basic education can certainly provide more opportunities for women in the choice of a scientific career.

What are the main challenges related to the promotion of gender equality in the knowledge society?

In a knowledge society, the issue of gender equality has advanced a lot, but there are still challenges to be overcome. On different scales, in different countries, there are still exists physical, moral and psychological violence against women by men who feel to be that way. In Brazil, the Maria da Penha Law was an important step in preventing and punishing sorts of crimes, which unfortunately still happen. Additionally, there are challenges also in terms of labour value in many sectors of the economy in which women's wages are lower than those paid to men. Cultural changes are slow and undergo a process of advancements and setbacks. The discussion of gender equality is facing new issues such as respect for gender diversity and tolerance of cultural differences. And the struggle of women has played a key role in opening up social and legal perspectives for gender diversity.

How do you see the mobility programmes to motivate more women to choose a scientific career and empower them?

Mobility programmes are extremely important for scientific exchanges and training of highly qualified human resources. Statistical data shows, in a very positive way, a high participation of women in mobility programmes and the importance of this to their career as scientists in terms of scientific results and visibility.

Creating Gender Equality in Science & Research in the EU

On 8 March 2016, International Women's Day is being celebrated around the world. Gender equality is a cornerstone of the European Union and applies to all European policies including research and innovation. The Strategic engagement for gender equality 2016-2019 (1.2 MB) was published in December 2015, and is a follow-up and prolongation of the Commission Strategy for equality between women and men 2010-2015. It sets the framework for the Commisison's future work towards improving gender equality. The Strategic engagement sets out objectives in five priority areas and identifies more than 30 concrete actions while reaffirming the Commisison's commitment to integrating a gender equality perspective into all EU policies as well as into EU funding programmes. Detals can be found here (658.26 KB) .