Insight - International Women’s Day: Women in Space

Monday, March 5, 2018

By Nicole Nir, Program and Communications Coordinator

In 1987, the US Congress declared March as National Women’s History Month: a time dedicated to celebrating the achievements of women in the United States. On March 8, we celebrate International Women’s Day, a “global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women.” This month is a time to honor national and international achievements and continue the call for equity. It’s an opportunity for reflection, advocacy, and action.

We at Secure World believe that security and socioeconomic benefits in space and on Earth are best achieved through cooperative actions, which requires the participation of ALL including those who have traditionally been left out of the conversations. We are proud to be a supporter of WorldDenver’s annual International Women’s Day Gala Luncheon and Seminar which has as their theme this year “Women in Space”. The keynote speaker is Dr. Mae Jemison, an entrepreneur, an advocate for science education, and the first African-American woman in space. SWF’s co-founder and President, Cynda Collins Arsenault will be honored for her philanthropic work in establishing Secure World Foundation and in bringing women’s critical skills to bear on peace and security issues. The WorldDenver event also features a panel moderated by Ms Collins Arsenault with 5 space experts including SWF’s Washington Office Director Victoria Samson, a globally-recognized leader on policy and budgetary issues related to military space and space security, will speak about women in space policy and security.

As women continue to encounter glass ceilings throughout our careers, it is necessary to build networks and institutions, with the support of the larger space community, in a way that acknowledges that we as a society are still on a path to gender equity. Throughout the space sector, there is increasing support for conversations and events that proactively acknowledge the barriers that have been overcome and those that still exist for women in the field. SWF supports a number of initiatives focused on women in the space field.

The Brooke Owens Fellowship is a mentorship program for women that was launched in honor of space industry pioneer and accomplished pilot, Dawn Brooke Owens (1980 – 2016), who mentored a growing group of young professionals at NASA before her passing. Supported by a broad group of industry sponsors including SWF, the Brooke Owens Fellowship has mentored 36 young women since its inception in 2017. This Fellowship focuses on career development and building leadership skills among women in a field that is still male-dominated. The application window for 2018 is closed, but applications will open in September 2018 for 2019.

Another example of the importance the international community places on women and space is that the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs recently endorsed the implementation of the “Space for Women” initiative, which focuses “on the empowerment of women in developing countries, in particular by strengthening the possibility of their participation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics education”. Ms. Collins Arsenault will speak on the panel on “Space for Women” on June 18 at the UNISPACE+50 event in Vienna.

Networking events like women’s Space Happy Hours (often inclusive of men) are gaining in popularity as well. Recently, Colorado Women in Space Exploration (WISE) was started by Carolyn Belle of NSR. WISE is a group of women from diverse segments of the industry (engineering, business development, non-profit, journalism) aimed at building community in the Denver metro area. WISE provides a much needed venue for women across the industry to connect with each other in an effort to supplement our focus within our own companies and spheres of activity. To connect with WISE, please contact Ms. Belle.

Women in Aerospace organizes similar gatherings, as well as program series and webinars, in Washington, DC and at industry events around the world. Upcoming events include a webinar on Strategies for Interrupting Gender Bias at Work and the Southern California Happy Hour. WIA-Europe also organizes mentoring programs, workshops, and networking events throughout Europe to expand “women’s opportunities for leadership and increase their visibility in the aerospace sector.” These spaces provide an opportunity to connect over shared experiences and promote personal and professional development. Making space for dialogue among women in “safe spaces” is beneficial not just for our careers, but also in being intentional about the community the sector wants to develop.

As we promote cooperative solutions for space, we should keep our minds open to the future we hope to build. We see a push from women in the community to have more representation on panels and within decision-making roles. Secure World Foundation makes a strong effort to bring diverse representation to our panels and events. We also see a collective effort within the larger space community to make representation a priority - documents such as #NoExcuses Female Speakers in STEEM (science, technology, engineering, entrepreneurship and mathematics) show that there is ample expertise among women in STEEM. This working document continues to grow with the ongoing feedback from the larger STEEM community and lists nearly 300 women with expertise in space.

In addition to her work with SWF, Ms. Collins Arsenault is also the founder of Our Secure Future: Women Make the Difference. In October 2017, Our Secure Future: Women Make the Difference released a report on engaging male champions of women, peace, and security, which highlights the need to increase the number of male champions, increase collaboration among men, and improve collaboration between men and women. As a result of Our Secure Future’s efforts, Ambassador Don Steinberg of the Wilson Center has pledged to coordinate a new auxiliary group to advance the discussion around engaging men as allies in the Women, Peace, and Security agenda.

This International Women’s Day, we can all reflect on how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go. Women like Ms. Owens, Dr. Jemison, and Ms. Collins Arsenault have paved the way for many of us in our careers. We know that cooperation, collaboration, and representation are necessary for long-term peace and sustainability, and we see many opportunities emerging for cooperation and collaboration. Each of us plays a role in moving this forward. Each of us plays a role in the future we create. We invite you to join us in celebrating Women in Space and continuing this journey with us.

Last updated on March 5, 2018