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ISA – Webinar di Alto Livello su ‘Enhancing the role and participation of women in deep-sea scientific research’

Discorso pronunciato dall’Ambasciatrice Mariangela Zappia, Rappresentante Permanente dell’Italia presso le Nazioni Unite, al Panel 1 su ‘Enabling empowerment and leadership of women in deep-sea research for transformative actions’ —

Thank you to the organizers for inviting me to this conversation.

Despite women’s equal participation and leadership in public life being essential to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, data show that women are under-represented at all levels of decision-making worldwide. This is true for political representation: women serve as Heads of State or Government only in 22 countries worldwide, and 119 countries have never had a woman leader. Only 21 per cent of government ministers are women, only 14 countries having achieved 50 per cent or more women in cabinets. and only 25 per cent of all parliamentarians are women. Balanced representation is also a challenge in science and research.

According to UNESCO, just 30% of the world’s researchers are women: while a growing number of women are enrolling in university, many opt out at the highest levels required for a research career.

For decades, sustained investments from foundations, nonprofits, government agencies, and others have supported efforts to improve the representation of girls and women in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medical fields (STEMM). There has been progress, however the rate of improvement has been too slow, progress has plateaued, or even moved backward in some cases.

Ocean science is no exception. Women are under-represented especially in highly technical sectors such as deep- sea research, and in leadership positions. Numbers are low everywhere but in particular in LDCs, SIDS and land-locked developing countries.

Today, we have an opportunity for transformational change, a “reset” as the Secretary-General has emphasized on several occasions. Facts show that, whenever women are given the opportunities to fully and meaningfully participate in public life, they can make the difference. Throughout last year, women and girls in science have been on the forefront of the response to the COVID crisis. They have been healthcare workers and innovators. They have been researching vaccines and pioneering treatments. They have been leading us toward a safer world, and inspiring the next generation of girls to be forces of good in science and technology.

Ultimately, the core issue to tackle is the one of access to and distribution of power. Sometimes women have a problem in pronouncing the word power but, power means the power to change, the power to contribute. Meaningful participation of women in politics, institutions and public life at all levels, including in research, is a catalyst for that transformational change which could benefit the society as a whole and make it more resilient and sustainable in the long term. I firmly believe that we, at the UN, have a role to play in making this happen, and just a few suggestions in this regard:

1. We need to mainstream gender into international governance for the oceans and their science. Gender considerations should not be solely the object of isolated initiatives, but should pervasively inform all decision-making processes, and the scientific processes Scientific research needs to cut across genders, geographies, cultures, and generations to ensure that all members of society work together in a transformational, large-scale, and innovative effort to advance ocean science in all policy processes.

2. The empowerment of women scientists and the participation of women in ocean science must be a priority for all Member states, so as to enlarge the scientific community.

3. We need to introduce provisions to ensure that international bodies, including technical organs, are composedin a gender balanced way.

4. We need to mobilize substantial funding to support these objectives, and to ensure that capacity-building activities are gender-responsive, in addition to being participatory and cross-cutting.

Italy attaches the greatest importance to the synergic achievement of SDG5 and SDG14. We have almost filled the gender gap in marine sciences and nowadays women equal men in marine research institutions and universities. A woman, Professor Nadia Pinardi, kick-started over twenty years ago the Italian operational oceanography when she created the first ocean numerical model in Europe and the second in the world.

We appreciate very much the Authority’s leadership and responsibility in promoting and encouraging the conduct of marine scientific research in the Area, and its duty to coordinate and disseminate the results of such research and analysis. The Authority’s capacity-building programmes benefitting women are of utmost importance for a sustainable growth of the targeted Countries and we commend ISA’s commitment, together with UN-OHRLLS, to contribute to the enhancement of women’s role and participation in deep-sea scientific research.

One last point, women’s participation goes hand in hand with the full involvement of youth. It is not by chance that the first Secretary General’s Award for Excellence in Deep-Sea Research was awarded in 2018 to the young researcher Diva Amon from Trinidad & Tobago: she is an example of dedication and professionalism for all women researchers on Developing Countries and an inspiration to do more to make the world of marine research fully inclusive and open to creative ideas.

Happy Women’s Day to all of you, women and men.

Thank you very much.