#MeToo moves south

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Science  21 Feb 2020:
Vol. 367, Issue 6480, pp. 842-845
DOI: 10.1126/science.367.6480.842

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Earlier this month, officials at the University of Los Andes (Uniandes) in Bogotá, Colombia, concluded the former head of the school's biology department was guilty of sexual harassment and fired him. The move marked a dramatic turn in a twisting, nearly 15-month-long controversy, which deeply divided one of Latin America's most prestigious private universities and was closely watched by Colombia's media and women's rights groups. Many applauded the university's decision, but also complained that its investigation was marred by bureaucratic bungling and a lack of transparency. And they say those missteps highlight how universities across Latin America are struggling to protect women within cultures that have long tolerated, and even celebrated, male privilege and a set of attitudes known as machismo. Such masculine demography has helped promote a sometimes toxic atmosphere for women in academia—including faculty and students in the sciences—according to dozens of researchers from across Latin America who spoke with Science. But now, the tide might be turning. At Uniandes and elsewhere, administrators are promising to adopt stronger policies and enforce them. In some countries, legislators and agencies are moving to enact new, nationwide standards for reporting sexual harassment at campuses and research institutes. In 2019, more than 250 researchers signed a letter, published in Science, urging "scientists and institutions across Latin America to be aware of the damage that machismo, and its denial, inflicts on women and the enterprise of science as a whole." And an emerging constellation of advocacy groups has been ratcheting up the pressure for reform through social media campaigns, legal challenges, and other tactics—including marches and even the takeover of university buildings.

  • * Lindzi Wessel is a journalist in Santiago, Chile. Rodrigo Pérez Ortega is Science's news intern.

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