Celebrating Women in Nonproliferation

April 19, 2021
Kaitlin Emmons and Margarita Kalinina-Pohl

The month of March is recognized in the United States and other countries as Women’s History Month. Starting as a single day in the early 1900s, this iconic movement has evolved into a month-long celebration where achievements and contributions of women are recognized across all fields. In the United States, Women’s History Month intentionally coincides with International Women’s Day (IWD) which is celebrated all over the world on March 8th to honor women’s successes and to raise awareness about women’s equality.

At the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) and the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Nonproliferation (VCDNP), we look back at the contributions of the incredible women at our organizations throughout March 2021 and year-round to global peace and security. At CNS and the VCDNP, women make up 47% of the workforce, 50% of senior leadership, and 59% of mid-level management.

Headshots of women working at CNS and VCDNP

Women at CNS and VCDNP.

In the Spotlight

Recalling this year’s celebration of Women’s History Month, we would like to spotlight several CNS/VCDNP initiatives and programs designed to advance the role of women of all ages in nonproliferation globally. These initiatives empower young women to become the next generation of nonproliferation experts through access to training and education, professional networks, and by providing them with the tools to amplify their voices.

The Young Women in Nonproliferation Initiative, led by Ms. Sarah Bidgood, introduces women at U.S. colleges and universities to WMD-related issues and careers as part of an effort to bring more women into the field of nonproliferation and disarmament. The initiative’s advisers include leading U.S. and international experts on WMD nonproliferation, disarmament, and arms control such as Ambassadors Susan Burk (ret.), Elayne Whyte Gomez, and Bonnie Jenkins; UN high level representatives Ms. Angela Kane and Ms. Izumi Nakamitsu; and prominent diplomats and experts including Ambassador Shorna-Kay Richards, Dr. Patricia Lewis, Dr. Amy Sands, Dr. Heather Williams, and others. In addition to the undergraduate mentorship component of the program, the Young Women in Nonproliferation Initiative also provides online resources and tools to help address the gender gap and promote the role of women in WMD nonproliferation and disarmament.

Women in STEM is another emerging initiative at CNS that focuses on engaging, training, and advancing the role of women with technical and science backgrounds in the WMD nonproliferation and security space. Introduced by Ms. Elena Sokova and continued by Ms. Margarita Kalinina-Pohl, this program focuses on capacity-building, particularly in the African region, and bridges the fields of policy and science to enhance the participation of women in STEM in international peace and security. This program aims to promote gender equity in the nuclear, chemical, biological, and radiological fields.

In March, Ms. Kalinina-Pohl spoke at two events focusing on women in STEM. She delivered a presentation on the importance of engaging women in STEM in WMD nonproliferation policy research and leadership at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW 65/2021) side event on Empowering Women in STEM hosted by the Mothers Legacy Project. She was joined at this event by former CNS Visiting Fellow Prof. Rabia Sa’id from Nigeria, a physicist by training. At another event, Breaking Barriers: From Words to Action hosted by CRDF Global, Ms. Kalinina-Pohl was a featured guest at one of the break-out rooms focusing on overcoming mid-career plateaus.

Ms. Nomsa Ndongwe, a December 2020 graduate of the MA Nonproliferation and Terrorism Studies Program and former CNS Graduate Research Assistant, joined CNS staff in January 2021. She is a Co-founder and Director of the West Coast Chapter of Women of Color Advancing Peace, Security & Conflict Transformation (WCAPS). Other leadership of the WCAPS-West Chapter includes MIIS students Ms. Rayna Rogers, Ms. Jasmine Owens, Ms. Jasmine Sturdifen, and Ms. Nicole Pascoe. WCAPS was established by Ambassador Bonnie Jenkins to “amplify the voices of Black, Indigenous and women of color (BIWOC) in the fields of international peace, security, and conflict transformation through an inclusive, and equitable, holistic approach to tackling today’s challenges.” In March, Ms. Ndongwe participated in the CRDF Global event on Breaking Barriers: From Words to Action as a featured guest in one of the break-out rooms. This event brought together experts to discuss how to build on the current momentum to drive sustainable improvement in women’s representation and inclusion in science and national security fields.

Another woman-founded initiative at CNS is the Middle East Next Generation Arms Control Network (MENACS). Dr. Chen Kane established the network with the goal to expand nonproliferation knowledge and academic teaching in the region and to promote the establishment of a Weapons of Mass Destruction-Free Zone in the Middle East. Women make up 60% of MENACS. Members are committed to making a difference through cooperation across borders and out-of-the-box thinking and collaboration.

The CNS Visiting Fellows Program is a semester-long nonproliferation training program that is currently led by Mr. Jean du Preez. The Visiting Fellows program has trained over 300 experts from nearly 50 countries, and more than half of all trained fellows have been women. Program participants have also included recipients of the Robin Copeland Memorial Fellowship, which provides women scientists and engineers from emerging countries with the opportunity to deepen their understanding of nonproliferation policies.

For the spring 2021 semester, CNS is virtually hosting eight Visiting Fellows. The three women of this semester’s cohort are Ms. Stacey Achoki (Kenya), MSc graduate at the Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology; Dr. Rose Onoja (Nigeria), Associate Professor at the Centre for Energy Research & Training, Ogbadibo; and Ms. Grisselle Rodríguez (Panama), Counsellor, Human Rights and Disarmament Officer at the Permanent Mission of Panama to the UN and other International Organizations in Geneva. As part of her fellowship research, Ms. Rodríguez is focusing on exploring the nexus between gender and disarmament, as well as the progress (or lack of progress) in terms of gender mainstreaming at the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC).

The Critical Issues Forum (CIF), a unique nonproliferation and disarmament program for high-school students and teachers from the U.S., Japan, and Russia, and the Summer Undergraduate Nonproliferation Fellowship Program are two initiatives led by Ms. Masako Toki. Both programs have introduced young high school and undergraduate women to the nonproliferation field, provided them with training, and amplified their voices by creating opportunities for them to participate in activities that introduce these topics. The March CIF speakers series event “Rebooting Memories with Hibakusha” featured an atomic bombing survivor who shared her experiences, the discrimination she endured, and her reflections on the importance of peace education.

Celebrating CNS Women

The accomplishments and initiatives listed above present a snapshot of the innovative work done by the women of CNS and the VCDNP. At any given time, our women colleagues can be found leading initiatives, publishing innovative nonproliferation research, serving as mentors, and speaking at conferences (or webinars, in the era of COVID-19). Year-round all women at CNS and VCDNP, including Ms. Sarah Bidgood, Ms. Jill Buntenbach, Ms. Edith Bursac, Ms. Catherine Dill, Ms. Kaitlin Emmons, Ms. Paulina Izewicz, Ms. Margarita Kalinina-Pohl, Ms. Angela Kane, Dr. Chen Kane, Ms. Ingrid Kristen, Ms. Bridget Leahy, Ms. Jill Luster, Ms. Gaukhar Mukhatzhanova, Ms. Nomsa Ndongwe, Dr. Hanna Notte, Ms. Elena Sokova, Ms. Anne-Marie Steiger, Ms. Masako Toki, Ms. Jessica Varnum, Ms. Jamie Withorne, and Ms. Mara Zarka work passionately to combat the spread of weapons of mass destruction through public speaking engagements, training, and outreach, as well as through their daily operations of CNS and the VCDNP.

Some notable activities during the month of March 2021 include Ms. Paulina Izewicz’s presentation at the inaugural ACAMS Global Sanctions Summit in the “Maritime, Energy and Commodities” session, Dr. Chen Kane’s two workshops with Middle East regional officials and experts that explored the impact of the JCPOA on regional proliferation, Dr. Hanna Notte’s appearance at four speaking engagements (the annual conference for the Program for Emerging Leaders (PEL), the Valdai Discussion Club, conference hosted by the Track II Institute for Citizen Diplomacy and the Esalen Institute on “The Third Bomb And How To Prevent It,” and the “Chemical Weapons Arms Control at a Crossroads” panel hosted by the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University), and Ms. Mara Zarka’s creation of an eLearning unit that focuses on Gender and Disarmament.

Leadership Initiatives

Recognizing that a healthy and effective workplace is one where all people feel safe, valued, and included, in mid-2019 CNS launched a comprehensive Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) initiative. Ms. Jessica Varnum, CNS’s Deputy Director, leads this initiative on a day-to-day basis, with the support and input of CNS’s Founding Director Dr. William Potter, other CNS leadership, and a staff DEI committee with representatives from all three offices.

As an active member of the Organizations in Solidarity Initiative spearheaded by Women of Color Advancing Peace, Security and Conflict Transformation (WCAPS), several CNS/VCDNP leadership and staff participate in meetings, working groups, conferences, career fairs and other initiatives designed to meet the 12 commitments outlined in the Solidarity Statement “Standing Together Against Racism and Discrimination.” Numerous CNS staff and students participated in the February 2021 inaugural conference, “Standing Together in 2021,” which showcased the efforts of the 13 working groups.

Members of CNS senior leadership are also active in promoting gender equity in the field of nonproliferation writ large. CNS Founding Director Dr. William Potter and Executive Director of the VCDNP Ms. Elena Sokova are Gender Champions in Nuclear Policy, a leadership network that brings together heads of organizations working in nuclear policy to make Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely (SMART) commitments “to break down gender barriers and make gender equity a working reality in their spheres of influence.”

Under the leadership of Ms. Sokova, the VCDNP partnered with the International Affairs Institute (IAI) in Rome, Italy, in the framework of the EU Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Consortium to launch the Young Women and Next Generation Initiative (YWNGI). The Initiative encourages young women to enter the non‑proliferation, arms control, and disarmament field, especially at a time in which the global pandemic has isolated many young people who may find themselves lacking resources and assistance.

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