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Spotlight on being a woman in Earth Observation

We probably heard it many times already: it is estimated that less than 30% of the researchers worldwide are women. This estimation reflects on the Earth Observation field as well.

What is Earth Observation? It is the science of gathering information on our planet’s physical, chemical and biological system through remote technologies, usually involving satellites. Earth Observations has a wide variety of applications: civil, military, scientific etc.

Why it is so important to have more women in this field? The Earth Observation field is probably the main tool we have to study our planet and its greatest issues, such as climate change and resource management. With such an important objective in mind, promoting diversity and inclusion is necessary to get people involved and bring different voices and perspectives in this field.

In 2011, The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published an interesting study on Greening Household Behaviour. The report is based on surveys in eleven countries: Australia, Canada, Chile, France, Israel, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. One of the many interesting findings of this study is that women are generally more environmentally motivated and less skeptical than men (Figure 1).

Figure 1 Source: OECD (2014), Greening Household Behaviour: Overview from the 2011 Survey - Revised edition

Then why are so few women involved in such an important field for a sustainable environment development? As most of the researchers involved in Earth Observation are either physicists or engineers, the gender gap in enrolling in these subjects reflects on the industry as well. Besides, I believe that the potential of the Earth Observations field is underestimated, and this sector doesn’t get the visibility it deserves. In the collective imaginary, space is associated with space exploration and we often forget the incredible potential of looking back at our planet from space.

How to get involved? The European Space Agency (ESA) developed and promoted a wide range of activities on education and training in the field of Earth Observation, from secondary school to more advanced courses for more trained young professionals. In 2019, the Women in Geospatial+ network launched a career mentorship programme to offer people guidance in building a career in geospatial related field. The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) is also committed to ensuring that women and girls play an active and equal role in space science, technology, innovation and exploration. For this reason, they funded the Space4Women project, which has a mentorship programme to promote girls and young womens’ involvement in STEM fields related to space.

Our beautiful planet needs our help, and getting involved in the Earth Observation sector is a great opportunity to apply our technical skills and contribute to developing innovative solutions for a healthy and balanced environment.

With thanks - this article was written by Marta Luffarelli.

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