How do women in science contribute to peace and security?

  • 05 Mar. 2018 -
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  • Last updated: 05 Mar. 2018 10:13

Women make a difference in peace and security – including through science. Female scientists and experts provide their leadership and expertise and engage in knowledge-sharing and training initiatives through the NATO Science for Peace and Security (SPS) Programme in a number of fields in relation to today’s security challenges. Discover some of these remarkable women.

To overcome stereotypes and prejudice, female leading scientists should take an active role in promoting science and careers in science,” said Dr Ivana Capan from the Ruđer Bošković Institute in Zagreb, Croatia. “But what is even more important, is to send a strong message to young girls, to not be afraid to go against the stereotypes, and to encourage them getting involved in science, technology, engineering and math from an early age.”

Leading innovative research and development projects

Dr Capan is directing an international team of researchers from Australia, Croatia, Japan, Portugal and Slovenia who are engineering silicon carbide for enhanced border and port security. The aim of this cutting-edge project – known as e-SiCure – is to detect illicit trafficking of nuclear materials across borders using nuclear screening systems. Her leading role in this SPS project has also boosted Dr Capan’s career, who is on her way to become a professor.

Other tech-savvy women are leading innovative, security-related research and development projects for instance on cyber security. Prof. Dr Nazife Baykal is a specialist on communications and IT security and teaches mathematics and computer engineering at the Graduate School of Informatics, Middle East Technical University (METU) in Turkey. She instructed system and network administrators on network security, helping to build cyber defence capacity in Azerbaijan, Iraq, the Republic of Moldova and Montenegro.  She provided participants with the expertise and technical knowledge to help increase the resilience of their national networks in the context of growing cyber threats.

“Despite discouraging stereotypes, women in science achieve significant accomplishments every day,” said Prof. Nazife Baykal. “There is no doubt that the world needs female scientists’ enthusiastic contribution for an equitable, brilliant and constantly progressing future. We, as female scientists, have to encourage women all over the world to take action for a brilliant tomorrow.”

Women’s contribution to peace and security is not limited to the achievements of renowned scientists. Young female researchers, including PhDs and post-doctoral researchers, actively contribute to SPS multi-year research and development projects on topics such as sensors for the detection of harmful substances like chemical agents or explosives, forging international networks and empowering their peers.

At the Université Libre de Bruxelles, Stefania Traettino is a young Belgian scientist working as part of an international team of researchers from Belgium, Italy, Japan and Spain on innovative methods for rapid skin wound healing. Stefania is responsible for creating human disposable skin or mucosa patches for immediate applications in case of emergency. These patches will provide fast relief to civilians and military personnel injured by chemical or physical agents destroying for example their skin or other surface tissues.

“By working on the rapid wound healing project, I enhanced my knowledge and skills in the biomedical sector and enlarged my network in the scientific community by engaging with other young scientists from NATO partner countries,” said Stefania Traettino. “As a woman scientist, I am thankful to the NATO SPS Programme for giving me the opportunity to grow as a scientist and make a difference.”

Working with women in partner countries

The contributions of female experts and scientists to SPS projects come not only from NATO nations but also from partner countries – and leave a practical and tangible security impact. Project director Mirnesa Softić from the Ministry of Security in Bosnia and Herzegovina – one of NATO’s partner countries – is working to help improve emergency response and coordination in the Western Balkans. The objective is to customise and implement the Next Generation Incident Command System in these countries.

“Working in civil emergency environment for a woman is challenging for many reasons,” said Mirnesa Softić. “You have to be committed, work very hard and be ready to face unexpected situations. Passion and love for our homeland obviously gives us a power which we are not even aware that we carry in ourselves. We can make a difference, we just have to believe in what we do.”

This major project, which involves Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia* and the United States, enjoys high-level political and financial support from the US Department for Homeland Security, Science & Technology.

Supporting the Women, Peace and Security agenda

Over the years, many female scientists and researchers have contributed to the success of SPS Programme initiatives and benefitted from cooperation with the Programme,” said Dr Antonio Missiroli, NATO Assistant Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges. “SPS activities offer a platform for women to contribute to building peace and security at national, regional and international levels.”

Beyond the active involvement of female scientists and young researchers in its activities, the SPS Programme also supports the Women, Peace and Security agenda, having launched 13 projects in this area since 2013.

A number of gender-related projects include, for example, initiatives to provide a set of comprehensive indicators to evaluate how well the principles of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 are implemented as well as to map the integration of women within different countries’ armed forces.

Another project focused on how to handle gender-related complaints in the armed forces, resulting in a comprehensive handbook on how to prevent and respond to gender-related discrimination, harassment, bullying and abuse.

About the SPS Programme

The SPS Programme enhances practical, result-oriented cooperation involving scientists, experts and government officials from NATO member and partner countries alike. Activities are based on scientific research, technological innovation and knowledge exchange.