Celebrating Women’s History Month in the Space Community
This blog post was written by: Lauren Napier, Karina Perez, and Thomas Cheney
Most of the time when #women and #space come together in one topic the focus is on women in STEM or about the amazing women that have been scientists, engineers, or astronauts. In this post we will discuss the women in law, policy, the humanities and social sciences are shaping space policy, politics and law. You don’t have to look very hard to find some incredibly talented women making decisions and shaping ideas about space governance. The head of the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) is directed by Simonetta Di Pippo and before that by Mazlan Othman. Both women have worked hard to ensure the safety, sustainability, and peaceful uses of outer space at the international level. Additionally, at the student and young professional level, the Space Generation Advisory Council (SGAC) has been predominately led by women since the organization’s origins in 1999. Today, SGAC is managed by Executive Director Clementine Decoopman and she is working hard to ensure that the younger generation have a voice in the future of space governance and sustainability.
An initiative that is inclusive of all women in the space sector is the UNOOSA Space for Women project. This project connects the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with space by discussing SDG #4 on Quality Education and SDG #5 on Gender Equality. This project is connected to Capacity Building initiatives at UNOOSA. Capacity building, is as the term suggests about developing the capacity of states and organizations to engage and participate in the space sector.
Women can be found in leadership positions throughout the space sector. Three young women (Hashmita Koka, Manager; Karina Perez, Deputy Manager; and Anna Weiger, Speaker Coordinator) are running this year’s SGx, a one day TEDx style conference. They are providing a balanced, on-stage representation of the diversity of backgrounds held by people in the space sector. They are creating a diverse speaker line-up in order because showcasing this diversity is significant for the industry.
It is important to showcase the diversity of the space sector as it inspires the next generation and shapes the future of space. Karina Perez, Lead Researcher for US Space Policy for the Centre for a Spacefaring Civilization, was inspired by Lori Garver, former Deputy Administrator of NASA, after she heard Garver speak at Politicon in 2016. Garver, has shown incredible leadership in both the commercial space industry and in helping diversify the industry. Garver created the Brooke Owens Fellowship, which places undergrad women in summer internships at some of the top companies in the aerospace industry. These “Brookies” have made their mark and are hard to miss as they are taking over “Space Twitter” and the industry as a whole. Women like Lori Garver shape the future in more way than one, and the women who will follow her will continue to create an inclusive industry that allows women to shape space policy.
INCLUSION IS KEY
“Inclusion isn’t just a nicety. It’s a necessity. We need to use every perspective, and all the talent we have.” - Dr. Mae Jemison, former NASA astronaut and first woman of colour in space
Attending various conferences and other events within the space sector, there is one striking aspect to be noticed – there are only a few women or young professional to mid-level professional speakers. As we talk about the future (which we usually do with regards to space) it is important to have every perspective represented as outer space is for all humankind. To link back to the Space for Women initiative that is championed by UNOOSA, their vision statement for this project should be incorporated into all organizations’ mindsets. The idea that space applications should benefit women and girls is incredibly important. It is also key that they feel they can actively engage in the space sector as well. Though not mentioned in the vision there is also the importance of creating active and equal roles for women in the social sciences of space as well as the STEM disciplines.
“The vision of the Office for Outer Space Affairs is to bring the benefits of space to humankind. The Office for Outer Space Affairs is committed to ensuring that those benefits reach women and girls, and that women and girls play an active and equal role in space science, technology, innovation and exploration. This will be the focus of the Office's Space for Women project.” - United Nations Office of Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA)
In today’s fast-paced, social world it is important to champion women who are smart, successful, and passionate in their careers. It is so critical for girls today to have powerful, positive role models. In the space sector (and in the social sciences as well as STEM) there are many extraordinary women that have paved the way for future generations, have stories to tell, and have valued insight into the topics that are considered in the industry today. It is an honor to be a part of such a strong group of women in space as we carry our ideas, visions and insights into the future of space activity and application.
Space for Women and SGF2.0
Last year, before UNISPACE+50 SGAC held their Space Generation Forum 2.0 (SGF2.0). Part of the purpose of this event was to draft a working paper which was presented at UNISPACE+50. One of the working groups was on the topic of Space for Women. While Space for Women (or diversity in general) wasn’t a specific thematic priority of UNISPACE+50 it does fall under Thematic Priority 7, ‘Capacity Building for the Twenty-First Century’, furthermore gender equality is the fifth Sustainable Development Goal. While the main focus of the working group was women the working group recognized that it really needs to be part of a broader discussion on diversity in the space sector, and STEM more broadly. It is also important to keep in mind that this is an issue for everyone. This isn’t a ‘women’s issue’ it is a human issue; women’s rights are human rights. Additionally, while there is a strong, and undeniable moral and ethical case for greater diversity and participation in space, STEM and everything else it also makes economic sense. There is a huge pool of very talented individuals and it would be stupid not to enable them to thrive and flourish.
One of the recommendations was the need for an awareness campaign. It is important and sadly necessary to make men aware of the issues that women face but also that it is an issue that they need to care about. The working group felt that an awareness campaign is necessary to show other women that they are not alone, as #MeToo has shown there is a strength in numbers and solidarity. The second outcome/recommendation was the idea of mentorship. The third outcome/recommendation was the creation of ‘Space for Women ambassadors,’ these would be at the national or regional level and they can serve as role models for the local states.
As has been discussed there is more to the space sector than STEM, and while it is important to promote women’s involvement in STEM it is also important to recognize the contributions of the humanities and social sciences to the space sector. Communications, ethics, philosophy, sociology, history, anthropology and much more are vital to the success of any attempt to make humanity a spacefaring or ‘multi-planetary’ society, and humanity needs to mean humanity, and that requires diversity and representation.
The opinions expressed in these blogs posts are those of the author and do not represent the views of the Centre for a Spacefaring Civilization or anyone else.
Endnote on Quotes:
1. To learn more about inclusion, women in science, and the Defying Gravity: Women in Space experience at the Intrepid Air & Space Museum: https://www.microsoft.com/inculture/social-good/inclusion/?ocid=AID2332400_QSG_326745
2. To learn more about Space for Women: http://www.unoosa.org/oosa/en/ourwork/topics/spaceforwomen/index.html