CNS Brings Together Women in STEM from Latin America and the Caribbean to Discuss Nonproliferation, Nuclear Security, and DEI Initiatives

July 26, 2023
Margarita Kalinina-Pohl, Jean du Preez, Spencer Erjavic*, Tessa Marker**

On June 19-23, CNS and the Nuclear and Energy Research Institute (Instituto de Pesquisas Energéticas e Nucleares, IPEN) conducted a week-long symposium titled “Nuclear Nonproliferation and Security for Women in STEM in Latin America and the Caribbean” in São Paulo, Brazil. To make it an all-inclusive event, organizers opened applications to all genders, and provided Portuguese and Spanish interpretation to accommodate all participants with different levels of English-language skills. IPEN hosted the symposium on its campus at the University of São Paulo. Drawing from the experience of its flagship capacity building and outreach programs for women technical experts and scientists from Africa and Black Sea, CNS invigorated discussion of gender equality, diversity, equity, and inclusion in the nonproliferation and nuclear security field in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Symposium participants

The purpose of the symposium was to provide women in STEM with a broader understanding of nonproliferation and nuclear security policies, as well as the various institutions, tools, and mechanisms necessary to address current nonproliferation and nuclear security challenges. CNS and IPEN partnered to support worldwide efforts in promoting women in the nuclear field in general, and in the areas of nuclear nonproliferation, peaceful uses, and nuclear security in particular.  Led by Margarita Kalinina-Pohl, Jean duPreez, and Giovana Rodrigues Marfin of CNS and Dr. Jorge Sarkis of IPEN, the symposium gathered nearly 40 participants  from seven counties, including Argentina, Brazil, the Bahamas, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico, and Peru. Symposium participants represented government, industry, research, and academia from nuclear and other related sectors.

The symposium was opened by Dr. Wilson Calvo from the National Nuclear Energy Commission of Brazil (Comissão Nacional de Energia Nuclear (CNEN) and the IPEN Director Dr. Isolda Costa.  Both speakers recognized the importance and relevance of the symposium for women in STEM to Brazil’s overall policies to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in workplaces.  Dr. Costa noted that as a woman and as the IPEN director she is very proud to support this event and welcome experts from Latin America and the Caribbean at her institution.

The program was offered in a hybrid format allowing virtual participation of senior officials and prominent experts from international organizations, nongovernmental organizations, and national laboratories. Mr. Rafael Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency,  delivered a recorded welcome address and Ambassador Elayne Whyte (Costa Rica) joined virtually as a keynote speaker and a panelist.

In his video address, Grossi stated that the objectives of promoting women in STEM are in line with IAEA objectives and gave some examples of the initiatives taken by his office to promote women in the field, including Marie Sklodowska Curie Fellowship and Lise Meitner Programme. He noted the importance of engineers, scientists, and diplomats in the field of nonproliferation and their essential role in promoting peace and security.  In her keynote speech, Ambassador Whyte noted that participation in the symposium for women in STEM from Latin America and the Caribbean is of a personal significance to her.  Latin American and Caribbean countries played an important role in negotiating the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) and they have been vocal and consistent supporters of the treaty.  Being the chief TPNW negotiator, Ambassador Whyte observed that there is still more work to be done in supporting and fostering stronger representation of women in leadership positions during the negotiation and decision-making processes.

The symposium’s program was comprised of:

Several participants observed that the symposium was a first-of-its-kind event which they had attended wherein they could discuss gender issues while simultaneously increasing their professional understanding of the policies and practices related to nuclear nonproliferation and nuclear security. They also called for continuing engagement as a community through social media and the compiling of a document on best practices in DEI policies, and ways to address challenges for women in STEM. Camila Araujo, a radiation protection officer from Brazil, who originally proposed this idea, explained that “this document could serve as an inspirational guide, motivating [women] to join forces to strengthen nuclear non-proliferation and promote security. This initiative would help disseminate valuable information and encourage the active participation of women in STEM, contributing to building a more inclusive and engaged community.”  To some participants, the symposium was an opportunity to share their experiences and challenges as black women working and studying in nuclear fields.

Below are some reflections and feedback provided by participants anonymously (original style and grammar are preserved).

“I felt at home. I could express my ideas without limitations. I learned a lot about the field and its connections with women’s issues and contributions. I was introduced to many opportunities that I will share with my students and professional networking. I am waiting for the next edition.”

“Enriching experience of empowering women to work in the area of ​​non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.”

“The symposium provided an enriching experience, bringing women together to discuss strategies to prevent nuclear proliferation. Participants’ engagement resulted in valuable insights and an inspiring environment to promote greater female representation, contributing to a safer world.”

“I found the symposium super interesting, enriching and, above all, it allowed me to see other issues that I did not observe on a day-to-day basis, such as the struggle of women in different areas of work.”

“From the technical and informational point of view, it helped me a lot to understand the context of the region in terms of security and non-proliferation. The visits to the IPEN centers were very interesting. I liked knowing that women are not alone, that what happens to one in one part of the world also happens to another in a different country. The experience was very enriching, motivating and inspiring in general.”

“Participating in the first symposium on nuclear non-proliferation and safety for women in STEM in Latin America and the Caribbean, was a transformative experience. The event highlighted the importance of female participation in areas traditionally dominated by men, promoting diversity and gender equality in those strategic spheres. The symposium provided a unique environment to share knowledge, experiences and good practices among the women of the region. Meeting and interacting with inspiring women from the sector, who shared their journeys and challenges in the area of ​​nuclear non-proliferation and safety, was a source of motivation. This was found to strengthen the collaboration networks and drive the advancement and female leadership in STEM.”

Symposium organizers express their gratitude to the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, and the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation for their financial support that ensured the successful outcome of this event.

*Spencer Erjavic is a MANPTS student at MIIS
**Tessa Marker is a CNS Summer Undergraduate Fellow

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