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Strengthening the participation of women and girls in ocean science to achieve sustainable development goals

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By Michael W Lodge

As we celebrate the International Day of Women and Girls in Science on Tuesday, we are reminded of the need to renew our commitments to improve access for women from developing States to education and training, and ensure their increased participation in the field of ocean science, particularly in deep-sea scientific research.

Science, technology and innovation are fundamental to address global challenges such as poverty eradication, economic and social development and the protection of the environment. They are also critical for the achievement of the Goals and targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The vital role of women in contributing to these global objectives is well established and has been repeatedly reaffirmed by governments and at key United Nations conferences and meetings, from the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in 1979, to the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action in 1995, and the Dakar Framework for Action in 2000.

Over the last decade, we have also seen the adoption of the Tunis Agenda for the Information Society in 2005 and the agreed conclusions of the Commission on the Status of Women in 2011, along with the UN Resolution on Science, Technology and Innovation for Development in 2013, and more recently, the International Day of Women and Girls in Science and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in 2015.

Although many initiatives have been adopted at the global, regional and national levels to advance opportunities for women in emerging sectors such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and the Blue Economy, the participation of women from Least Developed Countries (LDCs), Land Locked Developing Countries (LLDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) remains low in these sectors. More efforts must be mobilized to enhance their participation.

According to UNESCO, women today account for only 38 per cent of the world’s researchers in ocean science, and the rate is even lower for women from developing countries.

Recognizing the benefits of fully including women in ocean science to development progress, the International Seabed Authority (ISA) has launched a Voluntary Commitment to increase women’s participation through capacity-building opportunities and enhance the scientific and technological capabilities of developing States. Pledged at the 2017 U.N. Ocean Conference in New York (#OceanAction15467).

ISA has a clear vision of women from developing States playing a central role in marine scientific research, with the impacts reaching far beyond the sphere of ocean science. To achieve this goal, ISA is investing in innovative and practical capacity development programs to improve the participation of women in ocean science, and particularly in deep-sea research. 2

Since the 2017 U.N. Ocean Conference, ISA has significantly increased opportunities for women scientists from developing States to benefit from unique tailored trainings in deep-sea research. In just three years, almost 50 women have taken part in the Contractor Training Programme implemented by ISA under the requirements set out by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea for exploration contractors undertaking activities in the international seabed area.

But much more can be done.

ISA and its partners are currently developing specific projects to further advance the role of women in ocean science in the lead up to the 2020 U.N. Ocean Conference to be held in Lisbon, Portugal, in June, where world leaders will convene to strengthen their efforts to mobilize, create and drive solutions to realize the 2030 Agenda. Against this backdrop, the conference will propel much needed science-based innovative solutions aimed at starting a new chapter of global ocean action.

Ahead of this world conference, ISA is holding, for the first time ever, an international workshop at its headquarters in Kingston, Jamaica, from Feb 10-12. The workshop has been designed to review the impact of all ISA’s capacity building programs and initiatives and more importantly, to identify the priority needs of developing states, including SIDS, LDCs and LLDCs. The workshop will also provide a unique opportunity to discuss how to maximize current actions to enhance the participation of women from developing States in ocean science and particularly, in deepsea research.

This week, as we mark the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, let us again reaffirm our commitment to bridging the gender gap, and enable action at all levels to improve access for women to education and training, and ensure their increased participation in the fields of science. Together, we must build the capacity of women and girls towards sustainable, inclusive and equitable economic growth to deliver, a sustainable future for all.

*Michael W Lodge is Secretary-General of the International Seabed Authority (ISA)*.

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