St. John’s, Antigua and Barbuda — On Wednesday, 29 May 2024, the International Seabed Authority (ISA) held a side event entitled “Leveraging partnerships and transformative actions to advance women empowerment and leadership in deep-sea research to support inclusive and sustainable ocean governance” as part of the official programme of the 4th International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

Co-hosted by Antigua and Barbuda and co-sponsored by Cook Islands, Malta, the United Nations Technology Bank for Least Developed Countries (UNTBLDC) and the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), the side event focused on raising awareness about concrete actions towards women’s empowerment and leadership in marine scientific research through collaborative efforts and transformative partnerships. The event shed light on various capacity development initiatives enhancing the participation and leadership of women from developing States in deep-sea research and related disciplines, impacting beyond ocean science, particularly those from least developed countries (LDCs), landlocked developing countries (LLDCs) and SIDS.

Reaffirming ISA’s unwavering commitments towards advancing women’s empowerment and leadership in ocean affairs, including in marine scientific research, ISA Secretary-General, H.E. Mr. Michael W. Lodge, noted the specific importance attached to this matter by SIDS.Big Ocean States (BOS) recognize that gender equality and women’s empowerment can have a transformative and multiplier effect on sustainable development. They also recognize that increasing women’s leadership, participation and representation is key to safe, prosperous and resilient societies. ISA shares such a vision fully. It is doing its part in creating the enabling conditions to advance women’s empowerment in ocean affairs and deep-sea research,” he said.

“For example, in 2021, together with the United Nations Office of the High Representative for the LDCs, LLDCs and SIDS and 32 partners, including seven Member States, five international and regional organizations, 15 private sector entities and several scientific and academic institutions, ISA launched the Women in Deep-Sea Research (WIDSR) project. Several impressive milestones have already been achieved demonstrating how much impactful collective action can be at national, regional and international levels,” he added.

Since 2021, the WIDSR project produced several studies and policy recommendations to support concrete and transformative actions. One of them was the issuance in 2022 of a report entitled “Empowering women from LDCs, LLDCs and SIDS in deep-sea research.” The first-ever gender mapping study in deep-sea research and related disciplines with a focus on LDCs, LDCs and SIDS, the report identified a series of trends and challenges faced by women scientists based on a survey conducted in 23 LDCs, LLDCs and SIDS.

In her opening remarks, the Honourable Samantha Marshall, Minister of State within the Ministry of Health Wellness, the Environment and Social Transformation of Antigua and Barbuda, underscored the importance of encouraging initiatives for the empowerment of women while promoting science education and research in support of the blue economy.

“It is a long-established fact that the underrepresentation of women in science has been a net negative, both in terms of the societal impact from decreased opportunities for women and girls and the loss of potential research from the exclusion of half of the population. We need to continue our efforts to address this historical injustice,” she said.

“We are at a moment in time where new and expanding fields of research in the deep sea provide an opportunity to address the gender gap in science. We applaud ISA for its programmes aimed at addressing the gender gap in marine scientific research in pursuance of SDG 14. In the last year, the Government of Antigua and Barbuda has participated in several training opportunities offered by ISA and their international partners as a way to develop technical capacity for our female officials in this emerging sector,” Minister Marshall added.

The Honourable Fekitamoeloa Katoa ‘Utoikamanu, Minister for Meteorology, Energy, Information, Disaster Management, Environment, Climate Change and Communications of the Kingdom of Tonga, said: “As a key actor in the development of sustainable blue economies of BOS, ISA has been a very strong and efficient advocate and the facilitator of concrete and impactful actions in support of women’s empowerment and leadership in ocean affairs. ISA’s actions are a catalyst to ensure the sustainable use and management of ocean area resources, particularly in deep-sea research and related disciplines. This, we commend. I am here today to reiterate our full support.”

Reflecting on the importance recognized by her country to advancing the cause of women in science, the Honourable Penelope Beckles, Minister of Planning and Development of Trinidad and Tobago, noted that “Trinidad and Tobago, home to internationally recognized marine scientists like Professor Judith Gobin and Dr. Diva Amon, actively promotes women’s empowerment in deep-sea research as crucial for sustainable development. Our dedication to diversity and inclusivity fuels innovation in marine ecosystem management, enhancing sustainability, bolstering resilience and advancing prosperity, ensuring our small island thrives for future generations.”

“The Antigua and Barbuda Agenda for SIDS is clear about the multiplier effect of women’s empowerment for sustainable development,” said Ms. Rabab Fatima, High Representative of the United Nations for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, and Special Adviser for the SIDS4 Conference.

“Together, we can transform deep-sea research to not only discover the unknown, but to do so with the full participation of the many talented and capable women who are key agents to achieve our shared mission”, she added.

Stressing the importance of cooperation and synergies among competent organizations, Mr. Deodat Maharaj, Managing Director of the UNTBLDC, highlighted the positive and productive partnership established with ISA. “The UNTBLDC is delighted with our partnership with ISA and its emphasis on delivering results where it matters: on the ground and for the lives of people,” Mr. Maharaj said.

The first panel of the event focused on the contribution of targeted and innovative capacity development activities for leveraging further the effective participation of women scientists from developing States in deep-sea research, particularly those from SIDS.

H.E. Ms. Janine Felson, Deputy Permanent Representative of Belize to the United Nations, noted that “the demand for deep-sea research will only increase with the growing interest in ocean as a solution to the myriad of developmental and environmental issues. Every effort should be made to ensure that women in science, especially those least represented as scientists from SIDS, will have the advantage in deep-sea research.  ISA’s commitment to WIDSR, particularly SIDS, is a welcome opportunity for targeted engagement, mentorship and building a network that can sustain and inspire early career researchers now and well into the future.”

Ms. Francesca Cassar, Economic and Development Coordinator at the Permanent Mission of Malta to ISA and the United Nations, emphasized the need for inclusive and innovative approaches encompassing specific actions in schools’ curricula and broader systems of education. “Malta is proud to be a long-standing partner of ISA in addressing the role of women in marine scientific research. Quality education is a vital component towards realizing the full potential of girls, who will become the women leaders of tomorrow. Malta continues to do its part by offering training opportunities to young professionals in ocean governance and the law of the sea thanks to the presence of the International Ocean Institute and the IMO International Maritime Law Institute on our shores,” Ms. Cassar said.

Mr. Edward Herman, Partnerships and Cooperation Director at the Seabed Minerals Authority of the Cook Islands, highlighted that “collaborating with ISA underscores the Cook Islands efforts and conduct in our engagements and partnerships in the seabed space. The opportunities, lessons and exchange of ideas with ISA are invaluable to how we work towards and promote positive outcomes.”

“Capacity development for the women of Cook Islands is the cornerstone of our achievements and progress for an empowered nation of women in science, supported at the political, social and technical levels both locally and internationally,” he added.

The second panel of the side event was the opportunity to discuss the contribution that strategic partnerships and cooperation frameworks can have in promoting and encouraging more integrated participation of women in deep-sea research.

Highlighting the value of strategic partnerships to develop meaningful and concrete actions to advance women’s empowerment and leadership in marine scientific research, H.E. Dr. Salman Al Farisi, the IORA Secretary-General, noted that “since the signing of the memorandum of understanding furthering the collaboration between ISA and IORA in 2022, many capacity-building projects have been undertaken with special emphasis on developing dedicated activities that aim at advancing women’s empowerment and leadership in ocean affairs including the law of the sea and deep-sea research matters.”

The event also heard from Mr. Sai Navoti, Chief of the SIDS Unit in the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, highlighting the value of tailored capacity development activities to foster women’s empowerment and leadership in marine scientific research through specific examples such as the Abyssal Initiative for Blue Growth implemented with ISA in the Pacific region.

Ms. Anna Scott, CEO of Mithril Minerals, insisted on the importance of promoting the professional recruitment of women scientists and called upon the industry and relevant entities to ensure that they provide a safe working environment and develop retaining plans based on tailored policies that recognize the need for flexible working practices to enable reconciliation of working and family responsibilities.

Dr. Tricia Lovell, Deputy Chief Fisheries Office and Vice-Chair of the National Ocean Governance Committee in Antigua and Barbuda, reiterated the importance of ensuring that educational programmes become reflective of the need to inspire young women and girls towards emerging sectors as well as the catalytic power of experts’ networks and mentorship. “As we reflect on the themes of partnerships, cooperation and transformative action, I am keenly aware that I am the product of and a testament to the benefits of strategic partnerships that support capacity initiatives for SIDS and other developing States. I feel privileged to have been given these opportunities, particularly as a woman of colour who comes from a SIDS. Still, I am also aware that more needs to be done to empower women in marine scientific research. ISA’s initiatives in this regard are, therefore, welcomed and applauded,” she concluded.

For more on this side event, see here:

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About ISA

The International Seabed Authority (ISA) is an autonomous intergovernmental organization mandated by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea to manage the mineral resources of the seabed beyond national jurisdiction for the shared benefit of humankind. ISA is committed to the principle that all economic activities in the deep seabed, including deep-seabed mining, must be regulated and responsibly managed using the best available scientific evidence for the benefit of all nations of the world. ISA works to ensure that the voices of all States, including developing States and other stakeholders, are effectively heard in discussions around the sustainable development of the deep seabed.

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