The Impact of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Accessibility in the Chemical Weapons Convention

Remarks by the Deputy Director-General of the OPCW, H.E. Ms Odette Melono

15 May 2023

Excellencies, guests, colleagues,

I wish to welcome everyone to this side event on the inclusion of diverse perspectives within the Chemical Weapons Convention. 

I greatly appreciate the Delegation of the United States of America for organising this panel discussion.

In particular, I would like to thank Ambassador Jenkins for organising this event today.

I would also like to thank High Representative Nakamitsu and Ms Pereira de Sousa for being here to share their thoughts and experiences.  

It is indispensable that we continue to raise awareness of the critical importance of gender and geographical diversity in disarmament and non-proliferation processes.

While chemical weapons are indiscriminate, experience has shown that when deployed in civilian areas, they tend to affect women disproportionately.

We know that chemical weapons, for instance, have different physical, social, and psychological impacts on men and women. Women may suffer from reproductive health issues, including miscarriages and infertility.  They may also require access to specialised healthcare.

In addition, access to protective equipment may be subject to gender-related bias due to the predominance of men as combatants and first responders in certain countries.

Diverse perspectives add value to our discussions regarding these inhumane weapons and how we prevent their use and deal with their consequences.  

If women are not heard and their views are not considered, their perspectives will not be part of the conversation, nor their needs or their ideas addressed. Therefore, women need to have a seat at the table.

In the context of negotiating a disarmament regime, having even one woman heard and championed in the room can change the dynamic and lead to different, more inclusive, and diverse outcomes than if only men had been present.

Although it is clear that the number of women as well as our substantive roles in diplomatic conferences must be raised, there are significant barriers to achieving this. 

In many countries, unfortunately, cultural or economic reasons, as well as obligations related to marriage or raising children, impede women’s educational and career opportunities, including in diplomacy.

This contributes to a visible lack of gender diversity, including in the context of the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Across geographical groups, there is also scope for more diversity.  

At the OPCW, with its 193 States Parties, we have long recognised that to succeed in our mission we must reflect the diversity of the world we serve.  

When it comes to peace, security, and disarmament, our perspectives are shaped by the world as we experience it.

It is therefore necessary to ensure that broad geographical perspectives are incorporated in our activities to tackle chemical weapons-related issues. 

At the OPCW, efforts are being taken to create more opportunities at all levels and across the board.

To remove barriers in recruitment, the Secretariat developed a sourcing strategy to attract candidates from the widest possible group of talent, including our technical areas of work.

This involves actively sourcing applicants via campaigns on the career platforms, marketing for specific positions, using targeted outreach, and engaging with States Parties and other groups.

Our recruitment process has also been amended to ensure it is as inclusive as possible.

And this has achieved measurable and meaningful results.

Since 2017, the proportion of women employed in professional grades has increased from 22% to more than 33% – a step in the direction of gender diversity and inclusivity.

This is in addition to almost reaching gender parity in senior appointments, which is a remarkable achievement given that as recently as 2018, this stood at 10%.

The percentage of professional staff members from the GRULAC region is at its highest in 17 years. The Africa region currently has its highest number of professional staff since the Organisation began.

Over 2020 and 2021 we conducted and published our first gender audit, which is now being used to develop an action plan to guide our work on creating an inclusive organisational culture.

Last year we issued a revised Code of Conduct for the Secretariat, in which we underscored the importance of gender equality and diversity and strengthened the sections related to harassment and discrimination.

We also worked with the UN Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute to organise a symposium on Women in Chemistry to identify opportunities for gender diversity in chemical safety and security.

Furthermore, we must ensure that a gender lens is applied to our activities and programmes so that we identify and address the issues that affect women. Under the leadership of the Director-General, to promote gender mainstreaming, the Secretariat established a group of Gender Focal Points and the OPCW is a member of the International Gender Champions network.

Despite the progress made in enhancing gender equality and diversity, our efforts must continue.  

A challenge that remains for the OPCW is the underrepresentation of women in technical positions, such as inspectors. In this regard, the new ChemTech Centre will allow us to expand our activities related to women studying and working in STEM.

Another area for improvement is attracting as many candidates from as wide a geographical spread as possible.

To this end, we need the active involvement and support of all stakeholders, including States Parties, National Authorities, civil society and academia.

During the Open-Ended Working Group for the Preparation of the Review Conference, many States Parties stressed the need to increase geographical diversity, gender equality, and inclusion within the OPCW.

And this has been well reflected within recommendations contained in the Working Group Chair’s Provisional Text, which is the basis for negotiations this week.

The Secretariat looks forward to receiving guidance and support from States Parties to take the next steps towards further improving gender and geographical diversity at the OPCW.

Distinguished participants,

Equality and diversity are not simply nice things to have at the international level, but rather they are things we simply need to have.

The complex and evolving nature of chemical threats requires all stakeholders to embrace broad perspectives to effectively prevent the re-emergence of chemical weapons.

In fact, inclusion of a range of diverse views in our activities makes them more efficient, maximising impact and increasing reach within our limited resources.

To this end, the Secretariat is committed to realising gender equality and diversity in our work, policies, and programmes, both now and going forward.

Likewise, it is my hope that the Fifth Review Conference will make recommendations on these issues that are not only actionable but also ambitious.   

I would like to thank all of you for your presence here today and I wish you a fruitful discussion on this important topic.

Thank you.