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Informal science learning experiences for gender equity, inclusion and belonging in STEM through a feminist intersectional lens

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Abstract

In this paper, the authors seek to analyze the perceptions, motivations and experiences of young women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education projects aiming to incentivize gender equity, based on the theoretical framework of feminist studies on science and intersectionality, as well as academic literature on equity and inclusion in science communication. The following question was considered: How does experience in these projects influence young women’s perceptions of belonging in the STEM fields? Working from a qualitative, content analysis approach, the authors conducted 73 questionnaires, 20 interviews, and 4 focus groups with 25 young women who participated in 4 projects developed in public schools in low-income settings in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The authors categorized the experience of these young women in their individual dimension–regarding motivations, interests, science identity and future career prospects; family dimension–encouragement and recognition from family members and parents’ beliefs and expectations; educational dimension–recognition by the school community, improvement in school performance, and intervention in school spaces; project dimension–representativeness of gender, race, class, and location, development of self-esteem and self-confidence, building of a sense of belonging, and active learning methodologies; and social dimension–domestic work in their daily lives and experiences of discrimination based on gender, race, class and location. The authors argue that such projects become “counter-spaces” in which marginalized young women find spaces of resistance and possibility, based on the unique position they occupy and, through feeling included and belonging, can claim their rightful presence from an intersectional perspective.

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Acknowledgements

The first author thanks the Brazilian National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq) for their doctoral grant, and Fulbright for the Doctoral Dissertation Research Award. The second author thanks the CNPq for the Productivity Scholarship 1B and the Rio de Janeiro Research Foundation Carlos Chagas Filho (FAPERJ) for the Scientist of Our State. The authors are grateful for the reflections of and dialogue with the researchers of the MSTEM-RJ network, from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. This study was held in the scope of Brazil’s National Institute of Public Communication of Science and Technology, with the support of CNPq and FAPERJ.

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Reznik, G., Massarani, L. & Calabrese Barton, A. Informal science learning experiences for gender equity, inclusion and belonging in STEM through a feminist intersectional lens. Cult Stud of Sci Educ 18, 959–984 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11422-023-10149-4

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