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"Women in Space"

Meg Munn MP,  Former Minister for Women and Equality
Portcullis House,  10 May 2006

Meg Munn MP

Good evening.

I was intrigued by the title of the event: "Women in Space" - it sounds like an exotic species!

Seriously, I'm very pleased to be here as Deputy Minister for Women and Equality to support the work of the 'Women in Science, Engineering and Design All-Party Group' and the Parliamentary Space Committee.

This event is timely, because it comes almost 15 years to the day since the first British woman in space - Helen Sharman. Incidentally, Helen and I went to schools in the same area in my constituency. However, that doesn't mean that I'll be going up in a rocket, I'm afraid of heights!

There are also other high profile examples of women in space: Valentina Tereshkova and Sally Ride. But whilst name-checking them we must also remember the numerous other women working in the space industry - working in a wide range of roles, from engineers and project managers, determining policy and strategy, and those engaged in academic research.

Space is one of the most challenging of disciplines and demands innovative minds, new ways of working and an approach to looking into the future that is difficult. As in too many sectors, women have traditionally been held back from fully participating in this work. It is interesting to note that within the economy in general, where we have skills sectors, women are underrepresented. Government has a strategy for the science, engineering and technology sectors which aims to improve the position of women in employment, education and policy-making.

As part of this strategy, the 'UK Resource Centre for Women in SET' was launched in 2004. The Centre recently organised the 'Women of Outstanding Achievement in SET' photographic exhibition and I was delighted to attend the opening. Two women who were featured were Professor Jocelyn Bell Burnell CBE, and Dr Maggie Aderin. That two of the 6 women chosen for the exhibition were from the space sector speaks volumes about the talent of the women currently working there. 

There is encouraging news from the space sector:

  • EADS Astrium UK employs over 300 women, equal to 16% of their total workforce in this country, 
  • the Engineering and Technology Board reports a year on year increase in the number of women seeking professional registration, and
  • The Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) has set up a 'Women in Science' focus group which advises on issues related to retention and career progression in these disciplines.

This is all very promising and I hope the strategy for Women in SET will bring about further improvements in those statistics.

The UK space sector is growing year on year. Government will continue to foster its development within our economy. We have to ensure that women are given the room to prove themselves; we need to create an environment where every woman is able to reach her potential. We can use testimonies from those women currently working in the space sector to reach young people at an early age; it's an excellent way to inspire young people to aim for a career in science, engineering and technology.

As we know, development within the space sector spill out into our everyday lives. I know that women play a vital part in this. I hope we can ensure that the young women and girls of today take the career prospects within the space sector seriously. We have to encourage the future scientists, technicians and inventors from the whole of the population - not limit ourselves and miss out on their potential.

Thank you.