An initiative of the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues (S/GWI), the Innovation Station amplifies women and girls developing creative, translatable solutions to climate-related challenges in their communities. In addition to a virtual event series, podcast, and newsletter, the initiative boasts a growing network of women and girls implementing their solutions and sharing best practices around the world.
While Central Europe contends with increasing heat stress, wildfire risk, and other impacts of climate change, it is simultaneously navigating opportunities and challenges associated with a transition to clean energy. Scientific and technological solutions have a role to play, which is why, as Innovation Station lead for the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues, I traveled to Austria, Hungary, and Slovenia this February — in observance of International Day of Women and Girls in Science — to discuss with researchers, students, entrepreneurs, and government officials the role of women and girls as climate leaders and agents of change.
I was eager to hear how various scientific institutions in the region are addressing barriers to women’s and girls’ entry in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers, especially those related to tackling climate change. I learned about the Institute Jozef Stefan’s Athena project in Slovenia and its work bolstering opportunities for women researchers, and during an on-site lecture, I discussed the role of the Innovation Station in building networks for woman and girl innovators—including many who are developing STEM-related climate solutions. At the Lake Balaton Limnological Research Institute, I heard about exciting efforts to combine science and art to spark public interest in environmental challenges facing Hungary’s largest lake—inspiring tourists to take action.
During my visit to the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) near Vienna, I was intrigued by the prioritization of interdisciplinary research, noting during a seminar the wide-ranging interdisciplinarity of the gender-climate nexus, which touches on everything from environmental sciences, to security studies, to economics, and more. And I was able to reflect on my own experiences as a woman scientist—alongside colleagues representing Austria, Italy, Sweden, Switzerland, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and IIASA—during an event at the Austrian Academy of Sciences, which illuminated systemic and institutional barriers to women and girls’ advancement in STEM while underscoring the role of men and boys in facilitating change.
Engaging with students and learning about their STEM interests can help pinpoint early barriers to entry. Science communication—particularly on climate change-related topics—was a passion of many high school, undergraduate, and graduate students who convened for a roundtable discussion at Semmelweis University in Budapest. We talked about the role of social media and other tools in sharing information about climate, environmental, and other STEM-related global challenges. During a lecture at the University of Pannonia, which brought together students and community members alike, I highlighted the role of women and girls in building resilience, case studying replicable best practices we’ve learned from members of the Innovation Station network.
Another topic that proved interesting to students was turning science and technology advances into entrepreneurial endeavors, something that will grow increasingly critical as the green and blue economies expand and as industries transition to more sustainable practices. At an event hosted by CEED Slovenia, I met several alumni of the Academy for Women Entrepreneurs program and shared with them—and other businessowners from across Ljubljana—the role of the private sector in addressing sustainability challenges, even if a company’s products or services are not directly related to climate change.
While the gender-climate nexus was new to many of the individuals and organizations I met throughout Central Europe, everyone appreciated the importance of empowering women and girls in climate action and decision-making. After all, climate solutions are unlikely to be effective if 50 percent of the population is left out of their development. I sought to emphasize how climate solutions crafted by women and girls benefit all of society, and how best practices learned in one community can help others adapt to and mitigate climate challenges more efficiently.
In all my engagements, it was important to understand local contexts that influence women and girls’ ability to succeed as climate leaders. I noted opportunities related to sustainable tourism, the creative industries, rural entrepreneurship, and broader circular economies. So, when I returned to Washington, I made 30 introductions for Austrian, Hungarian, and Slovene organizations with women and girls in our Innovation Station network who specialize in these opportunity areas. This relationship building facilitates the sharing of ideas and strategies that help women and girls reach their full potential as climate leaders—including as STEM researchers and entrepreneurs.
Thank you for having me, Austria, Hungary, and Slovenia!
About the Author: Aubrey R. Paris, Ph.D., is the Gender, Climate & Innovation Policy Advisor in the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues (S/GWI), where she leads the Innovation Station initiative. Dr. Paris received her Ph.D. in Chemistry and Materials Science from Princeton University and B.S. in Chemistry and Biology from Ursinus College.