ITU News recently met with the Director of the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) Simonetta Di Pippo, who leads UNOOSA’s strategic, policy and program activities and advises the United Nations Secretary-General on outer space affairs.
UNOOSA performs an important mission in space activities. What exactly does UNOOSA do and how does it differ from the work of its sister United Nations agency, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU)?
UNOOSA’s mission is to promote the peaceful uses of outer space and to ensure that everyone, everywhere, has access to the benefits of space technology and applications. ITU, on the other hand, is committed to connecting all the people of the world, wherever they live and whatever their means, so that they can communicate effectively through radio and satellite technology. Therefore, our missions are closely aligned and interdependent.
Space exploration is the backbone of modern communication technologies: Every time you make a phone call or access the Internet, you benefit from space technology, which also enables satellite navigation, remote financial transactions and much more. other activities that make our modern life possible. .
UNOOSA’s work to ensure strong international cooperation in space, the sustainability of space exploration and the inclusion of developing countries in the benefits of space, creates a solid foundation for the work. of the ITU aimed at harnessing the potential of communication technologies.
Would you describe yourself as a woman pushing the boundaries of space?
As an astrophysicist and someone who has worked in the space industry for decades, I certainly know what it’s like to be in a male dominated industry. Throughout my career, I have always strived to help more women succeed in space.
Role models are essential for empowering and educating women and girls – shedding light on opportunities, explaining different career paths, providing guidance and relationships, and showing that, if you are dedicated, you will be successful. I have always tried to provide this encouragement, support and inspiration to the women and men around me.
What have been your most inspiring projects to date?
At UNOOSA, we are working to close not only the gender gap in access to space, but also other kinds of gaps, for example, so that countries can reap the benefits of space.
Thanks to our Access to Space for All Initiative, working with exceptional partners such as leading space agencies and private sector companies operating in space, we provide opportunities for teams around the world, especially in developing countries, to acquire space capabilities .
One of the flagship programs of the Initiative, KiboCUBE, has already enabled two countries, Kenya and Guatemala, to deploy their very first satellites. Other winners of the program are expected to follow suit, with Mauritius probably next, so it’s pretty exciting.
What led you to co-found Women in Aerospace Europe in 2009 and then, more recently, to become an international gender champion at the United Nations?
I have always believed in the power of association and networking to help women break glass ceilings. I co-founded Women in aerospace Europe as an organization dedicated to increasing the leadership capacities and visibility of women in the aerospace community, aiming to make a difference from the inside.
The contribution of senior leaders is also essential to drive change and empower women in all sectors. Through the United Nations International Network of Gender Champions, which I joined in 2017, high-level professionals are committed to making a difference for women through their work. It fits with my long-standing efforts and vision to help women reach their potential, so naturally I’m thrilled to be a part of this network.
How does UNOOSA support girls and women and encourage them to pursue careers in the space industry?
In 2019, we launched Space4Women – an initiative to promote equality between women and men in the space and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) sectors.
As research shows, the lack of mentors and women leaders in many fields of science is a significant factor preventing more young women from pursuing, or even considering, educational and career opportunities in these fields. To resolve this issue, Space4Women has created a mentor network through which space leaders around the world can help young women and men navigate education and careers in the space industry.
Over the past year, we have matched over 100 young people with our mentors, who have provided them with career advice, support and inspiration.
The Space4Women website is also collecting capacity building needs, from governments and institutions around the world, to design the support needed to strengthen gender equality in space and STEM.
Are the prospects for women and girls in the scientific community better today than at the start of your career?
Things are changing and many more girls and women today dare to dream of careers in “non-traditional” sectors that were forbidden to previous generations of women.
At UNOOSA, we often work with inspiring young women who are advancing the space industry in their own countries, such as Pooja lepcha from Bhutan, beneficiary of our common Kyutech (Kyusha Institute of Technology) camaraderie with Japan to study nanosatellite technologies, which then became part of the team that created Bhutan’s first satellite. Another example is that of the women scientists who were part of the team that developed Guatemala’s first satellite.
Despite these inspiring examples, significant obstacles remain for women. According to UN data report, women represent just over 35% of STEM graduates worldwide. According to an OECD 2019 report, female employment in aerospace engineering hovers around 10 to 15 percent in Europe and the United States, and women account for just over 20 percent of space employment.
Not much has changed in these numbers over the past thirty years.
While the gender gap may be narrowing, the proportion of female aerospace engineering graduates remains low in many developed countries, despite efforts by government and the private sector. We must do better.
Every leader has a role to play in ensuring equal opportunity – unleashing the talent of women in science and all other sectors for the benefit of all.