Gender: an issue for science?

Last week, CERN was invited to participate in the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) regional review meeting on how to accelerate gender equality in the European region. Representatives from CERN joined the conversation and proposed concrete examples of what needs to happen to enable more active participation by women in science and in decision-making positions.


In September 1995, around 10,000 participants, 30,000 activists, and government representatives from 189 countries all over the world met in Beijing for the Fourth World Conference on Women. The outcome was the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. Almost 20 years later, this document is considered the most progressive declaration for the advancement of women’s rights. In March 2015, the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women will carry out a review and appraisal of the implementation of the declaration with a global summit at United Nations Headquarters, New York.

In view of this meeting, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and UN Women organised a regional review meeting on the progress made and challenges met in the implementation of the Beijing declaration in the European region. “CERN was invited to join this high-level meeting to share with country delegates and NGO representatives what diversity means in our Organization, and to talk about best practices and concrete initiatives,” says Geneviève Guinot, CERN Diversity Programme leader. “It was also an opportunity to learn more about the progress of and setbacks to gender equality in the European region over the last twenty years.”

In addition to being a prestigious knowledge-exchange opportunity, CERN values its participation in the meeting as part of its relations with the United Nations. “It was important for CERN, in its capacity of Observer to the UN General Assembly, to participate in this event on gender equality and empowerment of women and girls, which is a stand-alone Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) in the post-2015 development agenda that the UN will finalise in 2015,” explains Maurizio Bona, who is in charge of CERN’s relations with international organisations. “CERN will monitor, in the coming months, the evolution of the process for the definition of the whole set of SDGs and associated targets, and provide our input as needed.”

During the two-day meeting, country delegates presented their status reports and had animated discussions on the following key topics in dedicated sessions: long-term trends in gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls in the ECE region, economic and social policies, women’s representation in policy and decision-making, prevention of violence against women and girls, and governance and justice.

Laurette Ponce, applied physicist from CERN’s Beams department, in charge of operations at the LHC, joined the session on “The way forward: gender equality for inclusive and sustainable societies” with a speech and a panel discussion. The ECE Executive Secretary, Christian Friis Bach of Denmark, chaired this session. Ponce presented her story as an eloquent example of how societal conditions - such as access to education and family support - together with favorable working environments, like CERN, can encourage, enable and empower women in science and technology. “We talked about what we put in place to make working in science possible, such as family-friendly and work/life balance support structures, as well as an employment opportunity specifically tailored to the needs of people returning to the workplace after a career break, and other measures,” concludes Guinot. “For me it is important to be aware of the challenges that many women still have to deal with in many European countries in order to compare and improve our policies. We have to keep on working to provide, maintain and develop a work environment of mutual respect and inclusiveness, for all dimensions of diversity.”

by Marina Giampietro