11 February 2024, Geneva, Switzerland - A recent study published in Science reveals an inspiring trend: school-age children in the United States are increasingly drawing women when asked to sketch scientists. Over five decades, the percentage of women depicted in these drawings has risen from less than 1% to an estimated 34% by 2016, reflecting a broader shift towards gender inclusivity in science. This transformation aligns with the growing representation of women in scientific fields, marking a positive trajectory towards gender parity.
Amidst this evolving landscape, UNOSAT (United Nations Satellite Centre) stands as a beacon of progress, with women team members leading the charge in leveraging satellite imagery and geospatial analysis to address critical environmental and humanitarian challenges worldwide.
Michelle de Gruchy, an archaeologist renowned for her groundbreaking work, shares insights into the pivotal role of satellite imagery in monitoring and protecting cultural heritage. “For the last couple of years, one of our most important projects has been in Ukraine – where we collaborated with UNESCO to safeguard Ukrainian's cultural heritage," she explains. "Our satellite imagery analysis provides an independent source of evidence to validate incoming reports of damage to cultural heritage, strengthening the claims and guiding restoration efforts."
Katarina Palmkron, an imagery analyst at UNOSAT, reminisces about her lifelong passion for maps and geography. "I have always loved maps, even as a kid," she recalls fondly. "When we were travelling with my family, I collected maps everywhere in the tourist offices." Her fascination with geography only grew stronger as she progressed through school. "At school, I loved geography and the variety of its field," she says. This passion led her to pursue a bachelor's degree in geography at university, where she immersed herself in GIS and cartography courses. "I often chose the GIS and cartography courses, which I enjoyed quite a lot," she explains. "It always kept me interested, and I always greatly enjoyed what I did, so I didn't feel like work in the end."
Reflecting on her journey and offering advice to aspiring women in science and technology, Michelle emphasizes the importance of seizing opportunities and cultivating supportive networks. "Over the last couple of decades, opportunities to get involved in science have become more accessible through online crowdsourcing initiatives," she notes. "Pay attention to women who are one or two steps ahead of you, and be a mentor to those who are just starting."
Katarina Palmkron echoes Michelle's sentiments, urging aspiring women to pursue their passions without reservation. "If I had to advise a young woman desiring to pursue a career in science, I would say 'go for it'," she asserts. "Believe in yourself, there are plenty of nice communities within the technology industry. You're not alone, and never diminish yourself because you're a woman."
Joy Papao, the in-country technical expert at the Solomon Islands National Disaster Management Office, reflects on her journey into satellite imagery, citing her passion since university. "It has been my passion to work with satellite imagery and its applications since this was introduced to me at the University," she says, emphasizing its versatility. Despite facing challenges as a woman in the scientific domain, Joy's perseverance and dedication have been instrumental in overcoming barriers.
"Main challenges are the lack of representation and stigma. However, self-confidence, dedication, and hard work were coping strategies that had helped me to overcome these challenges," she states. Joy underscores the importance of encouraging young women to embrace science and technology, advocating for confidence, leadership, and risk-taking. Drawing on her experiences, she highlights the critical role of satellite imagery in monitoring and addressing environmental and humanitarian crises, citing examples from the Solomon Islands.
At UNOSAT, women team members are at the forefront of utilising advanced technologies to address the many challenges of our times and work toward sustainable development. Their resilience, creativity, and leadership underscore UNOSAT's commitment to gender equality and the empowerment of women in science and technology.
As we commemorate Women in Science Day, let us celebrate the invaluable contributions of women like Michelle de Gruchy and Katarina Palmkron, whose dedication and efforts contribute greatly to putting geoinformation technologies to the benefit of those who need them the most.