ACUNS Vienna UN Conference

10 January 2018

Vienna, Austria


Good morning everyone!

    As the Director of the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs and as an International Gender Champion, it gives me great pleasure to address you here today at the ACUNS Vienna UN Conference on 'Achieving Gender Equality and Female Empowerment: A collaborative vision of SDG 5', a topic which is close to my heart and in which I have been personally involved almost all my career in one way or another.

    As you all know the United Nations declared the 11 February as International Day of Women and Girls in Science as part of our joint efforts to achieve full and equal access to and participation in science for women and girls, further achieve gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, and celebrate the potential of women and girls in science-related topics. In my function as Director of UNOOSA I applauded this decision and I am proud to inform you that my office is supporting these goals through a dedicated Space for Women project. As humankind makes significant scientific and technological advancements, there is still persistent gender inequality in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. While there is encouraging improvement, women's contributions and potentials are still not fully utilized. It is frustrating that in the 21st century and in fields that are known for breaking boundaries, we are still not making the most of what women have to contribute.

    According to UNESCO's Science Report from 2015: 'Towards 2030' women are actively chasing bachelor's and master's degrees and even outnumber men at these levels, but their numbers drop off at PhD level. Then women account for only 28 percent of science researchers across the world, with the gap increasing at the higher levels of decision-making. Studies have found that women generally have less access to funding, to networks, to senior positions. We really need to examine why, and how we can change it.

    And, while the share of female graduates in scientific fields is on the rise, UNESCO's Science Report also notes that women dominate the broader fields of health and welfare, but are least likely to be among engineering graduates.

    Research has also found that the lowest ratios of women to men tend to be found in low income countries. What can we do to support our colleagues in these countries? And to what extent does this also reflect wider societal imbalances?

    Turning to the space sector specifically, a new and exciting era in space exploration is about to begin. From a pool of more than 6000 candidates, NASA has selected, for the first time, a class of astronauts comprising 4 men and 4 women. This is very encouraging. Perhaps the first human to walk on Mars will be a woman - a step in the right direction, in every sense. However, the laudable achievements of female astronauts, are still occurring in a sector with a significant gender imbalance. And, even with strong and well known female astronauts as role models, young girls and women also need to see that this is not the only aerospace pathway open to them. We still have a lot to do to make Space for Women and to raise awareness on the many different career paths in Science and Technology.

    UNOOSA is eager to lead the process on 'Space for Women' as endorsed during the United Nations Expert Meeting on Space for Women in 2017. The final recommendations highlighted the importance of the establishment of a coordination model under the Office's leadership and already drafted basic structure following the three levels of

1.    The Institutional / Industry Level in order to address internal structures, policies, procedures and the organisational effect

2.    The Enabling Environment Level to promote necessary social norms, rules, laws policies as well as monitoring and review tools

3.    The Individual Level, which is shaped by 1 and 2, focussing on capacity-building, education and training

   The 'Space for Women' Project was designed with the targets to facilitate the strengthening of the awareness, capacity and skills of individuals and institutions related to the importance of promoting gender equality in the space sector and its fundamental educational fields and it will focus on:

1.    Communicating the opportunities of STEM education and facilitate access to the space sector education as well the space sector itself;
2.    Providing policy-relevant advice, knowledge management and evidence-based awareness raising, research and data to institutions and governments on "Space for Women" and "Women for Space";
3.    Facilitating capacity-building / training of individuals on access to and use of space-technology in order to train, generate skills and foster knowledge;
4.    Promoting a mentoring platform on 'Space for Women' Champions for advocacy and awareness raising purposes.

Distinguished participants,

   60 years have passed since the launch of Sputnik and since then the world has become more and more dependent on outer space activities and the wealth of information that is generated. Space today is a major growth sector, valued at around 320 billion USD. Currently over 70 space agencies operate more than 1,500 satellites and the number of commercial players is already outgrowing governmental operators.

   It is, therefore, important to remind ourselves that space is a "global commons" and a limited resource that has to be protected through one joint vision. The advancements of space technology benefit all member states of the UN, in one way or another, and space technology supports our common goals and our efforts in addressing global challenges and implementing the goals of the 2030 agenda for sustainable development.

   The task for the international community is therefore to preserve outer space as a limited resource for the benefit of humankind. In that regard, the year 2018 and UNISPACE+50 will mark an important milestone for the Office and the international space community. But, what is UNISPACE+50? Well, UNISPACE+50, while marking the fiftieth anniversary of the first UNISPACE conference, and also being an opportunity to take stock of the contributions of three global UNISPACE conferences, convened in Vienna in 1968, 1982 and 1999, will look at the future of global space activities and it is therefore the first UN Global space summit of the 21st century.

   We will examine the practical benefits of space science and technology and their applications with special focus on the needs of developing countries, global and regional development agendas, and the benefits for society at large. We will, in practise, try to maximize the use of space research, technology, services and applications to help Member States to fulfil their commitments for the SDGs, across the board. It is therefore imperative to underline that UNISPACE+50 is an all-inclusive gathering which will offer, among other things, a unique platform to exchange on the way forward of gender parity and to jointly progress on achieving Space 50/50 and for promoting equal opportunities for all in the space sector.

   To conclude, allow me to quote Shannon Lucid, a famous retired NASA astronaut. Ms Lucid said: 'Basically, all my life I'd been told you can't do that because you're female. So, guess I just didn't pay any attention. I just went ahead and did what I could and then, when the stars aligned, I was ready'
Well, together, looking at the hope of today and the reality of tomorrow, UNOOSA is eager to align the stars to:

1.    Make space work for the development of women
2.    Make space in the aerospace industry and STEM fields for women
3.    Work on more 'Space for Women'

Allow me to call for all of you who want to contribute to join the Space for Women project which is our reality of tomorrow.

Thank you, Merci, Gracias, Spasibo, Xie Xie and, in particular in honour of Doha, Shukran, for your attention.

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