Enhancing the Role of Women in MSR


Science, technology and innovation are fundamental to address global challenges such as poverty eradication, economic and social development, and the protection of the environment. They are also critical for the implementation of international law, in particular UNCLOS and the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development through which developing countries can benefit fully from the promise of sustainable and inclusive ocean economies.

The critical role of women in contributing to those global objectives has been well established and repeatedly reaffirmed by governments and key UN conferences and meetings. However, despite numerous initiatives implemented at global, regional and national levels to open up new opportunities for women in non-traditional as well as emerging sectors such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the participation of women from developing States in these sectors remains low. This is particularly true in the field of marine scientific research (MSR).

ISA has a vision of women from developing States playing a central role in MSR and in strengthening the scientific and technological capabilities of their country. To enable this vision, ISA launched a Voluntary Commitment (#OceanAction15467) at the UN Ocean Conference in June 2017: Promoting women empowerment and leadership in marine scientific research.

This commitment is also reflected in the ISA Strategic Plan and High-Level Action Plan for 2019-2023 (Strategic Direction 6.3.3), the action areas identified in the UN Roadmap for Accelerated Implementation of the Vienna Programme of Action formally endorsed in September 2020 and in the ISA MSR Action Plan in support of the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development adopted by the ISA Assembly in December 2020.

Since 2017, this commitment has been enacted in four thematic areas:

Informing policy Building and developing capacities Strategic partnerships Communications

Informing policy

ISA aims to raise awareness amongst decision-makers about the importance of women’s empowerment and leadership in the context of the implementation of UNCLOS, and in particular in relation to deep-sea research.
Due to multiple factors (cultural, religious, etc.), women, especially women from developing States, are facing particular difficulties in accessing senior positions and realizing their full potential as professionals. This is a loss for their country and for the international community at large. It is also an impediment for developing States to fully benefit from the opportunities offered under Part XI of UNCLOS in relation to mineral resources in the Area.

ISA strives to address these shortcomings at the highest level possible by influencing decision-making processes towards the adoption and implementation of proactive and positive measures that promote gender equality and empower women in the field of deep-sea scientific research.

ISA Secretary-General was recognized in 2020 as a Gender Champion, joining a global network of female and male leaders and decision-makers determined to break down gender barriers and make gender equality a working reality in their spheres of influence. Now, through this network of leaders, he can push forward ISA gender agenda supporting women scientists from developing States.


Building and developing capacities

Training and capacity-building have been an integral feature of ISA’s activities since its creation. It is ISA’s duty, in accordance with its mandate under UNCLOS, to ensure a variety of both capacity-building and technology transfer mechanisms for its members, especially developing States.
Several initiatives have been implemented since the establishment of ISA in 1994 to achieve this, namely:
  • The Endowment Fund for MSR (EFMSR)
  • The Contractor Training Programme
  • ISA Internship Programme
  • The Africa Deep Seabed Resources (ADSR) project
  • The Abyssal Initiative for Blue Growth project

As of April 2021, 423 individuals, including 188 women, had benefited from these initiatives.

ISA is committed to give priority to women, especially women from the most vulnerable countries such as the least developed countries (LDCs), landlocked developing countries (LLDCs) and small island developing States (SIDS), whenever possible.

See our leaflet on Enhancing the Role and Participation of Women in Deep-sea Research

More than 80 representatives met in Kingston in February 2020 to discuss capacity development, resources and needs assessment

In February 2020, ISA organized the first-ever workshop on capacity development resources and needs assessment. The workshop was attended by a diversity of stakeholders, including ISA members, observers, contractors, NGOs, partners, the scientific community and former trainees. The workshop resulted in the adoption of an outcomes document, including recommendations to advance the commitment of empowering women scientists, and ensure leadership roles for women scientists from developing States, as part of ISA’s mandate.

The Secretary-General took up this initiative and developed a report on a new programmatic approach for capacity development at ISA. The report was considered and adopted for implementation by the ISA Assembly in December 2020.  It is also now fully embedded in the ISA Action Plan for Marine Scientific Research in support of the UN Decade of Ocean Science, which was also formally adopted by the ISA Assembly in December 2020.

Gender-sensitive training programmes
  • Positive measures were put in place to ensure that all contractor training programmes are gender-sensitive particularly as regards providing equal opportunities for scientific training.
  • In 2019, the ISA Council required that all contractors put in place anti-sexual harassment policies on research vessels.

Sustainability and strategic partnerships

In 2018, ISA launched an important initiative in partnership with the Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (UN-OHRLLS) to establish a platform where decision-makers of permanent missions in New York are made more aware of the challenges faced by women scientists from developing States.

Together with UN-OHRLLS and other partners, ISA will implement the “Women in Deep-Sea Research” (WIDSR) project to address the critical challenges faced by women scientists from developing States, particularly from SIDS, LDCs and LLDCs, in accessing opportunities for careers and leadership roles in deep-sea research as a way to contribute to strengthening the resource base of such countries in highly technical areas of knowledge.

The WIDSR project activities will focus on improving data availability on gender-specific barriers and solutions in deep-sea science and technology, policy support and awareness from leaders and decision-makers. It will foster capacity-building initiatives, strategic alliances and partnerships around establishing communities of practice, twinning of institutions, mentorship and leadership programmes etc., and outreach and awareness activities.

Check our WIDSR project information brief (April 2021)

Watch the recording of the 8 March 2021 webinar to find out more about the WIDSR project.

Communications and outreach

ISA aspires to stimulate a vigorous general debate to review ways and means to ensure the full and equal access of women from developing States to MSR, and to promote their real participation in decision-making and leadership roles in deep-sea marine research.
ISA wants to showcase women’s accomplishments in the field of deep-sea research and highlight the great opportunities available for women in professions related to ocean science. This is also part of ISA’s ongoing efforts to increase deep-sea literacy among the general public.

Meet women in MSR!

As part of its efforts to raise awareness, ISA has invited women who have benefited from its capacity-building programmes and activities to share their stories. More profiles will be added as we strive to inspire more women from developing States to enroll in ISA’s programmes and in MSR.