On 7 June 2022, the International Gender Champions (IGC) network launched a new Impact Group on Research and Oceans for Women (IGROW) with the aim to provide a platform to facilitate synergies and collective actions to increase participation of women in ocean affairs.
IGROW will be co-chaired by H.E. Mr. Michael W. Lodge, Secretary-General of the International Seabed Authority (ISA) and H.E. Mr. Viliami Va’inga Tōnē, Permanent Representative of Tonga to the United Nations (UN). The group has received special support from IGC Alumna, the Honorable Ms. Fekita ‘Utoikamanu, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Tourism of the Kingdom of Tonga and Mr. Miguel de Serpa Soares, USG, UN Legal Counsel, and will involve senior government representatives and heads of international organizations as well as leaders in civil society and the private sector with associated interest.
H.E. Mr. Abdulla Shahid, President of the UN General Assembly; H.E. Ms. Mona Juul, Permanent Representative of Norway to the UN; Judge Maria Teresa Infante Caffi of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea; H.E. Ms. Vanessa Frazier, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Malta to ISA and the UN; H.E. Ms. Rabab Fatima, Permanent Representative of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh to ISA and the UN; H.E. Ms. Mathu Joyini, Permanent Representative of the Republic of South Africa to the UN; H.E. Ms. Margo Deiye, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Nauru to ISA and the UN; H.E. Dr. Mathias Jonas, Secretary-General of the International Hydrographic Organization and Ms. Beate Andrees, Special Representative of the International Labour Organization to the UN also joined the event and delivered statements in support of the initiative. Ms. Judith Owusu, Geochemist at the National Petroleum Agency of Ghana, was invited to join the discussion and shared her perspective and experience as a women scientist in a highly technical field of work such as the offshore petroleum industry.
During the virtual launch event, ISA Secretary-General Mr. Michael W. Lodge, who has been an International Gender Champion since 2020, underscored the importance of “concerted effort at the highest level to ensure that women are provided with the opportunity to fully participate in marine and ocean affairs.” He also added that “IGROW is an important catalyst for all our efforts to support women empowerment and leadership in all fields of ocean governance and ocean science. It offers a unique opportunity to ensure gender parity in the blue economy sectors, particularly in the least developed countries, the landlocked developing countries and small island developing States.”
USG Mr. Miguel de Serpa Soares, UN Legal Counsel and also an International Gender Champion, stated: “Women have always played a major role in humanity’s interaction with the ocean, for instance in the blue economy, science and culture, including traditional knowledge. From this vantage point, it is evident that gender issues are highly relevant to ocean affairs and warrant greater visibility, including through the activities of this Impact Group. [….] I am honored to join the Impact Group on Oceans to facilitate collective action towards gender equality and the empowerment of women in the field of ocean affairs and look forward to working with you all.”
Commenting on the alarming under-representation of women in the field of marine science and engineering, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Tourism of Tonga, the Honorable Fekitamoeloa Utoikamanu said: “This is of course reflective of the historical gender gap in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. But it is not acceptable in the 21st century […]. Supporting and empowering women leadership in all fields of ocean governance and science is vital. We can no longer wait, and the time starts now.”
Taking the floor as another International Gender Champion, Ambassador Mona Juul, Permanent Representative of Norway to the UN, further recognized the specific challenges encountered by women scientists form developing States. “In ocean research, 40 per cent of all ocean scientist are women. However, very few of those women are from the least developed countries, landlocked developing countries or small island developing States. [This is] a reminder that we all still have our work cut out for us and that diverse representation and knowledge is vital to ensure a sustainable ocean for future generations.”
Concluding the event, Secretary-General Lodge called on all leaders to join the IGC network and contribute to the activities of IGROW. He also invited all delegations attending the upcoming 2022 UN Ocean Conference to join the side events to be organized to discuss concrete actions towards women empowerment and leadership in ocean science.
A working level meeting is scheduled to take place in September 2022 to allow members of IGROW to collaborate in the development of an action plan with concrete and measurable actions to reach the three agreed strategic objectives of the Group namely: (i) ensuring strategic visibility of gender issues in the field of ocean affairs, (ii) designing and implementing targeted capacity-building initiatives and programmes to support increased women participation in ocean affairs and, (iii) advancing women empowerment and leadership in marine scientific research and international law.
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