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Ocean Decade: celebrating women empowerment on the occasion of International Women’s Day 2021

Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO

United Nations / Ocean Science & Technology / Ocean Policy & Sustainable Development

The United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development celebrated the 2021 International Women’s Day (8 March), emphasizing the Decade’s ambitions to advance gender equity. This year’s global theme ‘Choose to challenge’ was testament to question and call out gender bias and inequality.

In this framework, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Canadian Commission for UNESCO, L’Oréal Canada and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO teamed up to organize a dedicated virtual dialogue: ‘Making waves for ocean science: Empowering Women Leaders in the Ocean Decade’ which aimed to draw the public’s attention to the importance of fostering gender-sensitive actions in ocean science and leverage the opportunities the Ocean Decade offers. The event gathered  ~ 400 participants from 82 different countries.

Despite ongoing efforts to encourage girls and women to pursue career in marine science, they continue to be under represented, particularly in the highly technical and decision-making categories. According to the 2nd Global Ocean Science Report (GOSR2020) data, only 39 per cent of scientific ocean researchers worldwide are women. However, in countries such as Angola, Bulgaria, Croatia, El Salvador, Ireland, Poland and Turkey, women comprise less than 50% of ocean science personnel, an encouraging figure that should be built upon.

The online dialogue promoted the role of women in ocean science leadership through the testimonies of inspiring leaders who raised a series of challenges to be addressed, building on their personal experience and shared examples of actions to ensure women in ocean science are supported and empowered, including:

-the importance to mentor women early career ocean professionals; 

-the need to include women and non-binary individuals in the co-creation of ocean science management plans; 

-the need to actively support actions to empower more women and those who identify as non-binary to take on leadership roles; 

-the recognition that it is also an individual responsibility to take ownership of its own leadership path and show up for opportunities.

Specific initiatives dedicated to advancing gender equity were also recognized, such as the International Hydrographic Organization ‘Empowering Women in Hydrography’ Program and the ‘CommonWealth Priorities for Gender Equality 2017-2020 and beyond’ paper which encourages cooperation to protect girls’ and women’s rights to education. They support the Ocean Decade objectives and align with the principles of diversity and inclusion.

"Though more women study oceanography, their participation in higher education does not translate to equity in management, governance and decision making in the same field. The Decade calls on governments and all relevant stakeholders to increase women’s access to and retention in ocean science." asserted Vladimir Ryabinin, Executive Secretary of IOC-UNESCO.

Over the next ten years, the Decade will aim at systematically identifying and dismantling barriers to achieving gender and generational balance so that no one is left behind. Building on the discussions and outcomes of this session, a short outcome document will soon be available to highlight actions to empower women in ocean science at individual, organizational and governmental levels.

Everyone should be able to participate and grow in, as well as contribute to ocean science: allowing women and girls to choose the challenge of ocean science will be a key priority of the Decade. 

For more information, please contact: 

Marie-Elaine Boivin (me.boivin@unesco.org)  


  • Know more about the OceanDecade


  • Watch the replay: ‘Making waves for ocean science: Empowering Women Leaders in the Ocean Decade’ 


  • Discover voices of women involved in the Ocean Decade 

Lysa Wini Simeon: Ocean Governance for the Solomon Islands 

Marie Alexandrine Sicre: Towards the UN Ocean Decade 

Loreley Picourt: The stars are aligned for the ocean


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