International Women Day

“Seizing the Moment for Women in Nuclear Science”

Ambassador Glyn Davies
Vienna International Center
March 8, 2011

Good afternoon.  Thank you, Phillipa, for that kind introduction.  And thanks to all of you for joining me and my colleagues from the IAEA and the U.N. community to commemorate this 100th International Women’s Day.

This global event grew out of the will and determination of fair-minded working women in New York City who began organizing for equality in 1908.  Their efforts in the U.S. evolved into the world’s first National Women’s Day, the precursor to International Women’s Day.  So as the United States’ Ambassador to International Organizations in Vienna, I am particularly glad to help celebrate this occasion with you.

There is another, personal reason I am happy to be here with you and to participate in this ceremony. Or, perhaps I should say, two personal reasons. As a proud father of two daughters who are beginning to find their way in the world, I am moved by this year’s theme of equal access to training and decent work for women.

As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said, “When women are free to develop their talents and contribute fully to their societies, everyone benefits.  When women have equal rights, nations are more stable, peaceful and secure.”  The Secretary has placed advancing women’s equality at the core of United States foreign policy, tackling the issue as it relates to political reform, economic growth, food security, education and health care.

And multilateral organizations such as the IAEA, UNODC and the CTBTO play important roles in the achievement of equality for women—both in the work they do around the world, and in their structure and operations here at their Vienna headquarters.

First, considering the Board of Governors is in session, I would like to focus on the Agency, the VIG’s biggest player. Today offers a great opportunity to recognize the broad impact that nuclear science has on the lives of women, from a breast cancer patient in Atlanta, to a woman struggling to feed her family in Abuja.

The IAEA’s Technical Cooperation efforts have for decades helped create conditions in which women can flourish and reach their full potential.  Examples include improving crop yields with mutation induction techniques… using isotopic tracers to find and preserve sources of clean water, and … I hope increasingly, providing power to light homes, enable enterprise, and better connect people.

And on the fundamental level of human health, the IAEA supports advances in nuclear science to improve radiation therapy for women affected by cancer.

On a recent tour of IAEA projects in Asia, I was inspired by the progress being made at the Nuclear Medicine Facility at Ho Chi Min City’s Cho Ray hospital.  In addition to our steadfast commitment to the Technical Cooperation Program and the IAEA’s Department of Nuclear Sciences and Applications, the United States has made an additional five-year commitment of $50 million to support projects like these, and we have encouraged our partners from around the world to match this contribution.

Now let me turn to the question of women’s equality and the IAEA itself.  With an ever-increasing number of young women graduating with degrees in the natural sciences, there’s reason to think pioneering women scientists like the great Marie Curie would be amazed by far how we’ve come.

And yet much work remains to be done if we are truly going to banish the notion of science as a male-dominated field and secure the place of women in the laboratory, the research institute and in technical organizations.

Today women represent just 23.8 percent of the IAEA’s professional ranks.  And less than half of the Agency’s member states take part in the Points of Contact for the Recruitment of Women group—a key organizational tool for making sure women are fairly represented.

I believe we can and must do better.

And right now is a great time to redouble our efforts. The Nuclear Renaissance is well-launched and is picking up steam. Those pioneering scientists and engineers—the vast majority men—who made up the first great generation of nuclear experts are nearing retirement. So we find ourselves with the perfect opportunity to welcome a new vanguard of young women scientists, professionals and policymakers into the field.

Working multilaterally and of course closely with the IAEA’s leadership, I’m hopeful that this is the generation that will see the closing of the nuclear gender gap once and for all. It’s an effort worthwhile not just for its own sake, but for the sake of the IAEA and of the global nuclear industry. Because by investing in equal opportunity for women in nuclear science, the IAEA will harness both halves of humanity and emerge stronger and more effective than ever before.

Beyond the IAEA, the Vienna International Center is, of course, the nexus of many organizations. I would like to acknowledge the important contributions of women within the full range of multilateral bodies represented here in Austria, including the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization, UNIDO, UNCITRAL, the U.N. Office of Outer Space Affairs and IIASA.

The fact that none of these organizations has achieved gender parity should inspire us to put that much more effort into recruiting the best and brightest women in their fields to come to Vienna and contribute to the noble efforts of all of you and your colleagues here at the VIC.

The hard-working women already in the ranks of professional and technical experts in these organizations make an enormous positive difference, and I’m glad the organizers of International Women’s Day offer us this opportunity to gather and give them the credit they deserve.

Standing here with you all today, one hundred years after the founding of this event, it is striking to reflect not only upon how far we have come to create greater equality for women, but what great opportunity there is for a whole new generation of women to meet their potential working in one of these vitally important fields.

I pledge you my best efforts in this endeavor, not only because I represent a country explicitly committed to this historic cause, but because my daughters would expect it of me.

Thank you very much.