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Open Science and gender equality are two movements with much in common, so why is a feminist perspective on Open Science yet to emerge? Pastora Martínez Samper tackles the question.

"Feminism is the radical notion that women are people." Angela Davis

Some still see Open Science as something simply instrumental, an additional element that can be just added on at the end of the research process. This idea is most likely linked to the fact that open access to research results is one of the first goals (if not the only one) set in all institutional open science policies and action plans. In all such plans, the paywall on research results is a barrier that needs to be broken down if we are to commit to Open Science. And certainly, this particular instrumental barrier can be overcome at the end of the research process.

The open-access approach to knowledge has formed part of the Open Science movement from the start. However, in recent years, other approaches have added to and diversified Open Science to the point that UNESCO’s 2021 Recommendation defines it as "an inclusive construct that combines various movements and practices". Indeed, back in 2013, Fecher and Friesike identified five different schools of thought on Open Science: "the infrastructure school (i.e. the technological architecture), the public school (i.e. the accessibility of knowledge creation), the measurement school (i.e. alternative impact measurement), the democratic school (i.e. access to knowledge) and the pragmatic school (i.e. collaborative research)". All five are present in Europe thanks to the academic and political complicity seen in many, wide-ranging initiatives.

Despite this evolution of the concept, which has now been settled by UNESCO, it is nonetheless remarkable that hardly any light has been shone on a feminist perspective on Open Science. This is remarkable because both open science and feminist approaches to performing science share two key aspects of the generation, exchange and exploitation of knowledge. Firstly, both aim to increase knowledge by incorporating all kinds of know-how and actors to develop a more relevant science for society. Secondly, both stress the importance of the process to build this knowledge. Again according to UNESCO, this process must accentuate key values of Open Science such as "quality and integrity, collective benefit, equity and fairness, and diversity and inclusiveness".

Does this mean that any open science policy will automatically represent a step towards gender equality? No, by no means. As mentioned before, the implementation of open science has nearly always been limited to an open-access approach and disconnected from the gender equality plans established in the institutions. Fortunately, the need to interconnect both approaches has been highlighted in one of UNESCO's recommendations for the development of policies to create the right conditions for open science being: "mainstreaming gender equality aspects into open science policies, strategies and practices".

Currently, initiatives aimed at rethinking how we can better perform research and innovation - such as the recently founded Coalition for Advancing Research Assessment – are being rolled out. We need to seize this opportunity to go beyond the current policies and practices of open science to raise the profile of its boldest elements: Open Science for a better and more relevant science for society. If we want to reach this goal, we must incorporate the feminist perspective within the inclusive construct (albeit one that is still under construction) of Open Science. The UNESCO Recommendation sets the path forward by establishing "an international framework for open science policy and practice that recognizes disciplinary and regional differences in open science perspectives, takes into account academic freedom, gender-transformative approaches and the specific challenges of scientists and other open science actors in different countries and in particular in developing countries". Now it is our move. Let’s incorporate the feminist approach into open science policies and practices. Because Open Science will be feminist, or it won’t be at all.



Pastora Martínez Samper
Open University of Catalonia

Pastora Martínez Samper is Vice President for Globalization and Cooperation at the Open University of Catalonia, where she also leads the university’s Equality Unit. In addition, she is a member of EUA’s Expert Group on Open Science (EGOS), the Spanish Conference of Rectors’ (CRUE) Open Science Committee and the Institute of Health Carlos III’s Research Integrity Committee.

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