10 Mar 2019

ICM2018 & (WM)² seen by Carolina Araujo: “Empowered and happy”

Interview by Anna Maria Cherubini

You were one of the organizers of ICM 2018 and of (WM)²: could you please comment on both events.

Organizing ICM 2018 and of (WM)² was an intense and challenging experience. The ICM is the most important meeting of the whole mathematical community, receiving thousands of participants from all over the world for 10 days of celebration of Mathematics. Organizing such a big event, with such complex logistics, is a demanding task. It is a great responsibility for the organizing community. Fortunately, we had a good team of colleagues working together, and I believe that we honored the thrust that the IMU placed in us.

The (WM)², on the other hand, had its first edition in Rio in 2018, and it was very inspiring for CWM to be free to create and organize a unique event. It was carefully thought to be a day of celebration of beautiful mathematics done by women, and also a stage for empowerment, with a safe and supportive environment for participants to discuss challenges faced by women in mathematics.

Which where the best moments, in your opinion?

The day of the (WM)² was a very special day, which I will carry forever in my memories. I was deeply touched to see all those women, from all over the world, united, empowered and happy to be among ourselves. The group discussions were specially strong, as participants had protagonist roles in the discussion tables. For me that moment was mostly special.

The day of the (WM)² was a very special day, which I will carry forever in my memories. I was deeply touched to see all those women, from all over the world, united, empowered and happy to be among ourselves.

In your previous interview with us in 2017 you said that you considered the ICM  and the Biennium of Mathematics as  great opportunities to increase public awareness of mathematics in Brazil. Did they work as you expected?

I believe that we were very successful at using the ICM 2018, connected with other activities of the Biennium of Mathematics in Brazil, to get closer to society and increase public awareness of mathematics. The ICM 2018 was present and highly visible in most important media vehicles in Brazil. The delivery of the medals of the 2018 edition of the Brazilian Mathematical Olympiad of Public Schools (OBMEP) – which had 18 million participants, from more than 53 thousand schools in Brazil, reaching 99,6% of Brazilian municipalities – took place inside the ICM 2018, with the participation of Fields medalists.

What I had not anticipated, and came as a nice surprise, was the impact and great visibility that the (WM)² had outside the mathematical community. I was approached by many newspapers, magazines and societies that wanted to learn more about how we have been dealing with gender issues inside academia.

(WM)² was a huge event for women in mathematics: in your previous interviews with us in 2017 you also spoke about round tables and other networking events organised to bring together women mathematicians in Latin America. Which was the impact of (WM)² and how the situation has changed (if it has) since we last spoke? Has any new official or informal network started?

Colleagues from other Latin American countries took active part in the organization of the (WM)². That certainly brought us closer together. During the “II Encuentro de Mujeres Matemáticas en América Latina”, which took place in Chile in January 2018, we had a lunch meeting of our “invisible network” to discuss ideas for the (WM)². The format of the group discussions was conceived there. Our “invisible network” continues to exist, and a “III Encuentro de Mujeres Matemáticas en América Latina” is being planed for 2020.

Could you describe from your perspective how the situation about mathematical literacy in South America is? What has been done to improve this so far and what should still be done?

I can speak about the situation in Brasil, which is more familiar to me. Brazil is a country of great discrepancies and inequalities, also in mathematics. On the one hand, Brazil has been recently promoted to IMU’s group 5 – composed by the most developed countries in mathematical research. On the other hand, Brazil’s mean score in mathematics performance is one of the lowest among PISA-participating countries and economies, and the percentage of low performers in mathematics is one of the highest. Improving mathematical literacy in Brazil is a major challenge. It is clear that the solution depends highly on our basic education teachers. They are usually not valued for their work, not properly trained, and their salaries are low. As a response to this, important initiatives have been launched by scientific societies and other organizations to train school teachers in mathematics. These are important contributions. However, the situation cannot be changed unless our governors acknowledge the seriousness of the issue and commit to effective public policies in this respect.

I see right now many movements of women getting together, empowering themselves, having a clear understating of the place where they are, and the constrains that women have faced through centuries of patriarchal practices.
… I see confidence rising in young female mathematicians, and this is key for them to be protagonists in the field.

You have taken part in the video recording “Journey of Women in Mathematics”. Any comments on this experience?

I was first reluctant to take place in the film. I have always liked to work in the backstage, and usually do not feel at ease on the main stage itself. But I did understand the importance of the film, the importance of showing the life and work of “normal” women mathematician, with whom other women mathematicians can identify themselves. The shooting itself was an interesting and fun experience, very different than anything else I had done. And I was very pleased with the end result. I think the whole film is very inspiring, and also shows beautifully how diverse we are, women mathematicians.

What are your thoughts about the future of women in mathematics?

I see right now many movements of women getting together, empowering themselves, having a clear understating of the place where they are, and the constrains that women have faced through centuries of patriarchal practices. This movement is happening everywhere in the society, including within the mathematical community. This process raises women’s self esteem. I see confidence rising in young female mathematicians, and this is key for them to be protagonists in the field.

In my view, besides mathematics, women have a leading role in the changes that we need to make in order to live in a better world.