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  • Writer's pictureLeah Sacks

Wonderful Women in Space!

Today for my blog, I wanted to give a shout-out to the International Day of Women and Girls in Science and more specifically, in Space! First I want to give a little background on the day (based on the UN website, see below for the link!) and then I'll give a little specific information about what we at Western in the Institute for Earth and Space Exploration are doing to celebrate.

February 11th, 2022, is this year's day of Women and Girls in Science. The day is intended to bring attention to and put a spotlight on issues surrounding gender in science and simultaneously celebrate the achievements made thus far.

Gender equality and quality education are two of the 17 main goals currently listed by the UN. These are the "Sustainable Development" goals adopted in 2015, with a 15 year plan meant to conclude in 2030. The UN site currently notes that not enough progress was made in the first 7 years of the goals and that we need to kick it into gear, as it were. On December 20, 2013, the UN passed a resolution recognizing the importance of these types of issues, which then led to its inclusion in the Sustainable Development Goals, but while the official international recognition of the need for improvement is relatively recent, they are long standing needs.

STEM issues in the sciences have long held attention as a necessary area of improvement. Many students in STEM, particularly in physics, have stories and experiences that highlight gender inequality and frustration. In my own experience, one of the main things I notice when I walk into a room at a conference, is how many others in the room present as women. It is a situation that makes me alternately uncomfortable or more comfortable, depending on the outcome. I similarly notice when women author the important articles in my field.

The 7th International Day of Women and Girls in Science Assembly will be held this year by the UN on February 11th (virtually). The assembly is essentially a conference that focuses on a particular issue or motion in the UN and brings together experts in the field to discuss practical efforts for change and showcase initiatives. This year the assembly will focus on Science Development Goal 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation) and will leverage the knowledge of women and girls to work on achieving this goal.

Different communities recognize and celebrate this day in different ways, with no specific designated practices. Here at Western, I am largely part of the planetary science community, which chooses to recognize the day by highlighting the achievement of Women and Girls in Space specifically.

Generally, on this particularly night, the Institute hosts an evening open to the public in the campus's observatory, the Cronyn Observatory. Plans this year are still a bit up in the air, but I'll just describe my experiences from previous nights.

In order to further the goals toward spreading equal access to science and space, one of the floors of the observatory is dedicated to experiments, activities, and demonstrations about space for kids to come and explore. On the main floor, we run a series of activities including trivia, talks, and panels that highlights women in space. Often this includes teaching about the astronauts who are women and their achievements. One of the people discussed is one of Canada's newest astronauts, Jenni Sidey-Gibbons (see picture below!)! Women from Western and across Canada often join us for the panels, which we try to spread across different disciplines and areas of the planetary science and space community. Look for more details on Twitter if you are interested in the event!

Jenni Sidey-Gibbons © Canadian Space Agency

Personally, this year I'm planning to take some time to reflect on the achievements of those that have come before me and well and thinking about what myself and other women in my field will do in the years to come.

Here is the UN site on the day!

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