Women in STEM: an invitation to discover the contribution of monitoring against nuclear tests to science and development

Its mission is clear: to put an end to nuclear tests in the world, whether on the earth’s surface, in the atmosphere, under water or under earth. This is the purpose that moves the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) which will be established when the Treaty that bears its name comes into force. That is why today, between the Preparatory Commission and the Provisional Technical Secretariat, they are promoting its early entry into force and the universalization of the Treaty.

The task is huge. Therefore, through its Secretariat, it gathers the talent and commitment of nearly 300 professionals from 90 Member States. As part of this human group, the role of women stands out. Understanding the importance of having teams with a greater gender balance, organizations such as the CTBTO develop various actions aimed at recognizing the value of women in the development of its mission and attracting new talents that can be part of its organization.

To contextualize, let us recall that one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals is Goal 5, which seeks to achieve gender equality and empower women and girls.

In this context, the CTBTO tells us that between 2020 and 2021 -the latest figures available at the time- the participation of women in the Organization increased from 30% to 36%, an achievement of its determined policy of equal employment opportunities and the strategies that have been implemented over time to attract more women and girls to the STEM areas (acronym in English for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and, of course, to the Organization. We invite you to review this video to get motivated, and this link to review how to apply to CTBTO.

More women in STEM, more women in CTBTO

Here’s how the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization seeks to motivate women to study and work in STEM. To begin with, and as proof of this interest, its Executive Secretary, Robert Floyd, is part of the International Champions of Gender Network (IGC, by its acronym in English), which brings together decision-makers who work to break down barriers and make gender equality a reality in their respective spheres of influence. The Permanent Representative of Chile to the International Organizations based in Vienna, Ambassador Rodrigo Olsen, is also participating in this event.

These testimonies are transformed into actions to increase the participation of women, attracting girls and young women, as a way to generate knowledge and interests that motivate these new generations to be competitive candidates in the future. Of course, this representation is also intended to be geographically inclusive, where Latin America and the Caribbean have a low presence.

One of these initiatives is a Mentoring Program for early career women in STEM fields in underrepresented geographic regions. The Program integrated 12 talented female mentees, aged 22 to 33, from Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, the Middle East, South and Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

The mentees participated, among other activities, in one-on-one mentoring and monthly thematic seminars, in addition to sessions to learn more about CTBTO’s mission and activities. Part of the objectives is also to formulate research papers to be presented at the Science and Technology Conference 2023, to be held June 19-23.

And that is not all. One of the mentees was nominated by her Permanent Mission to participate in training activities for inspectors who will work on the on-site verification of the permanent nuclear test ban once the Treaty enters into force. In addition, three other apprentices were invited by the CTBTO to participate in a training organized by the On-Site Inspection Division in Slovakia in the second quarter of 2023.

Beyond the formal induction program, CTBTO seeks to make these women a talent pool for competitive, high-quality candidates who may, in the future, fill technical positions in the Organization’s Secretariat.

The success of the activity motivated the CTBTO to organize a new version of this Mentoring Program for this year. The call for applications will be available soon, but in the meantime we leave you a link with more information.

Another initiative is the CTBTO Youth Group, a platform that ensures that young people are part of the discussion at meetings of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization. Its role has been key in national, regional and international events and activities, where they promote the entry into force and universalization of the Treaty, as well as the participation of new generations in this mission. It is open to students and young graduates between the ages of 20 and 30, who aspire to contribute to world peace and security, and who wish to actively participate in the promotion of the Treaty and its verification regime.

There is also a CTBTO Youth Professional Network, a diverse and global community of young people working on monitoring and verification of the Treaty. It is a meeting place for free thinking, where new solutions can emerge through meetings, discussions and relationships aimed at strengthening collaboration within the CTBTO.

These activities are intermingled with others carried out by the Organization. This is the case of the Science and Technology Conference, SnT2023, which brings together more than 1,000 professionals from the scientific, technological, academic and student fields, together with representatives from the areas of research and development, scientific diplomacy, scientific advice, media and promotion.

How does Chile participate?

Firstly, the Permanent Mission of Chile to the International Organizations based in Vienna represents the interests of our country in the various sessions of the organs and bodies that make up the Preparatory Commission of the CTBTO. As part of its work, it has led and supported diplomatic efforts aimed at gender equity and the participation of professional women. The above, within the framework of government efforts to implement a Feminist Foreign Policy.

On the other hand, and within the framework of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, the government entrusted the Chilean Nuclear Energy Commission (CCHEN) to operate and maintain six of the eight stations located in the country, specifically in Punta Arenas, Rapa Nui and Robinson Crusoe.

Particle radionuclide station located at the Universidad de Magallanes.

These stations are part of the International Monitoring System (IMS), a global network that can detect any anomaly by means of seismic, hydroacoustic and infrasound sensors, as well as determine the presence of radioactive elements anywhere in the world.

All the data generated is managed by the International Data Center, located in Vienna, Austria, and then arrives at the National Data Center (CND), in charge of CCHEN. The person responsible for the monitoring stations in Chile is Paola García Peña, who told us about her beginnings and her professional career in this area.

1. Have you ever imagined yourself working in the nuclear field?

No, it was never in my mind until I came to work at CCHEN and found an area that was not being exploited (CTBT). There was a need to better promote all the aspects involved in the Treaty, in addition to the benefits that could be obtained for the benefit of science.

2. How did you get to work in the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty?

I got a call from a university classmate who used to work in my position to tell me about this vacancy. She told me that it was not a very active or well-paid job, but since I had just arrived to live in Santiago and I had never turned down a job, I took it. At first I didn’t understand anything about the Treaty or its link to the stations, however, little by little it took shape and I realized the potential this had and the benefits for the planet. From then on I have dedicated myself to give the greatest possible visibility to the Treaty in Chile.

3. How do you contribute to the peaceful use of nuclear applications in the world?

The CTBT is key because it protects us against the serious effects of nuclear testing on human health and the environment, not to mention that it is also essential for nuclear non-proliferation, as it limits the ability of countries that do not possess nuclear weapons to develop them, and contributes to nuclear disarmament by curbing the development of new types and designs of nuclear weapons. In addition to all of the above, it contributes to research and project development, thanks to the data obtained from stations around the world.

4. Do you feel that because you are a woman you have greater challenges in this industry? If so, what do you notice and how do you deal with it?

Only at certain times, it is not something that is present all the time. However, I question it when there are trainings where only 20 or 30 % of us are women, especially in topics related to the operation and maintenance of the stations. I feel very comfortable in that environment, where I also know most of the Station Operators, Local Operators and Station Managers (my position, according to the terminology used by the CTBTO). There are several branches of activities within the Treaty, and each one of them has different personnel, be it in the area of operation, maintenance, science, analysis, etc. And although there are women in each area, the number is still low in general. I see efforts to change this, however, I believe that the impetus must come from the countries themselves.

5. How would you evaluate your personal and professional development in the context of your work in this area?

I try to put a lot of dedication and creativity into my work, I relate very well with people and fulfill all the necessary tasks to achieve the objectives. I mention the word creativity, because I believe that every system is always improvable, and this is something very important for my personal development and to feel motivated in the work I do.

6. Precisely, what is the most interesting thing about your job?

The most interesting thing is that there is only one position like mine in each country, and that makes it unique. That is why, when there are international meetings, it is so important to share experiences and lessons learned, even though no country has the same model as another, as there are countries that have 20 stations and others, none.

7. What message would you leave for girls and young women who, in the future, may be interested in developing in this area?

Always trust in your abilities, regardless of whether it is an area full of men. Clearly we women are different from men, that is why it is important to have teams that integrate us equally, because we can each contribute from our own point of view. I invite you to fight for your convictions and also to learn more about my work and about the Treaty, unique in this field, which not only contributes on paper but, in practice, has an International Monitoring System that supports it and is a contribution to science and non-proliferation, for the benefit of people and the environment.

*Photos: courtesy of CTBTO