By Ximena Aguilar, Juan Pardo, Emmanuel Brempong and Merissa Naidoo |
“No woman should say, ‘I am but a woman!’ But a woman! What more can you ask to be?”
In the words of the pioneer astronomer and feminist- Maria Mitchell, simply being a woman is enough. From the shore to the depths of the ocean, women in science and exploration have been breaching through ceilings for decades, but not without challenges. As history would have it, the research questions, findings and hierarchical titles and status of the 20th century are “masculinized.”
Trailblazers who pave the way for women in ocean science include Mary Anning, Jeanne Villepreux-Power, Marie Tharp, Dr. Rachel Carson, Dr. Sylvia Earle and so many others. In fact, we do not need to look too far for inspirational female ocean scientists. UN Ocean Expert Prof. Karen Wiltshire is a strong believer that capacity development is imperative to secure the ocean’s future. Prof. Wiltshire conceived and implemented the SoNoAT training, a bold initiative of teaching hands-on ocean observations to international early-career scientists while crossing the Atlantic Ocean. Chief scientist of our expedition, she leads a team of 54 scientists, about half of them are women. All the mentioned women are role models not only for girls, but to anyone who wishes to understand and protect this planet’s greatest unknown – the oceans.
From over 800 applications, 25 students were selected to attend the SoNoAT, among them, 16 women. Despite their various scientific and personal backgrounds, their answers follow the same direction when asked about the challenges of being a woman in marine science. Inaccurate assumptions about their capacity and physical conditions leads to lack of opportunities in ocean-related and decision-making positions. Therefore, we still have a long way to go in this important area of research. For us, the SoNoAT training on board the RV Polarstern is an excellent example of maintaining gender equalities and a great opportunity for young female scientists.
We take inspiration in fearless women like Dr. Earle, Prof. Wiltshire and the young Greta Thunberg. As long as you have the courage to venture far from shore, the opportunities are endless. It starts with taking a step in the right direction and placing your feet firmly on the ground to stand up for what you believe.