Hidden Harms: Human (In)security in Outer Space: Consultation Report

July 10, 2024

Jessica West and and Vaishnavi Panchanadam
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This report outlines key themes and ideas from a consultation on intersectional perspectives related to human security and insecurity in outer space. Motivated by prior feminist research on lessons learned from the fields of peace and arms control, the consultation was intended to uncover the many ways in which human well-being is connected to the security of outer space. An intersectional feminist approach aids this effort by examining how gender and other social identities overlap in ways that may compound the benefits, harms, and insecurities that people experience in relation to outer space and space systems.

With funding from the Canadian Department of National Defence MINDS (Mobilizing Insights in Defence and Security) program, the consultation aimed to:

  • better understand the differentiated human implications of security and insecurity related to outer space;
  • articulate diverse experiences of insecurity related to outer space to inform both domestic and global policy responses;
  • consider alternative approaches to, and perspectives on, peace, security, and disarmament that might provide new ways of identifying, thinking about, and responding to the collective security environment in outer space;
  • expand the scope of dialogue on gendered and intersectional approaches to peace and security in outer space and inspire additional research by others.

This report identifies current and future sources of insecurity in outer space through an intersectional feminist lens, drawing attention to the hidden violence/harms and to the different and disproportionate effects of these harms that exist because of different social identities such as gender, race, sexuality, and ability, as well as socioeconomic status and geography. Of particular concern is how the multiple overlapping determinants of advantage and disadvantage shape the human experiences, benefits, and vulnerabilities that are associated with outer space; in effect, factors that allow the secure uses of space for some result in insecurity for others.

Questions about how the harms and benefits of space security are distributed and experienced are rarely raised because those who face disproportionate or different harms are rarely in the room. Women, people of colour, and those from the Global South have not been sufficiently represented in the diplomacy of space security. However, diversifying the faces in the room will not suffice: the underlying objective of inclusivity is change.

Although a key concern of both the consultation and this report is the need to better incorporate intersectional perspectives into discussions of norms, rules, and principles of responsible behaviour, as well as possible legal agreements that are currently unfolding at the United Nations, it is clear from this consultation that we need to foster fundamentally new conversations on space security. These conversations must not only include voices and perspectives that have traditionally gone unheard, but must respond to the values, experiences, and priorities associated with them. As one participant noted, we must make space for the unfamiliar and the uncomfortable.

There is a strong desire to have new and different conversations related to outer space. A project that we had envisioned as a few people talking about gender and space quickly expanded into a series of vibrant global online gatherings. One participant noted that in her 30 years of practising space law, she had never before attended a workshop focused on the values and approaches of intersectional feminism.

But desire for change is not enough. A deep and sustained transformation in the concepts and approaches that inform peace and security in outer space requires diplomatic leadership to make such change a priority in every venue. It also requires resources to support research, access to and participation in decision-making, and a change in the conversation.

What follows is a detailed reporting of the consultations held in July 2023, which included interactive online sessions, as well as a series of survey questions. Because the consultation brought together individuals from a variety of academic and professional backgrounds as well as geographic locations and included small group discussions, the result was many different conversational strands. We have done our best to pull these strands together and to supplement concepts and examples with additional resources, as noted in the footnotes as well as the resource list appended to this report; many resources were recommended by participants during the consultation.

It is our intention that both the consultation and the report serve as springboards to launch additional, deeper discussions, research, and diplomatic efforts on the various themes and takeaways identified by this initial conversation. We hope that people who might not otherwise feel that they have a place in this community can find new ways to make their perspectives and contributions known and valued. Read full report

With contributions from Taylor Douglas, Abishane Suthakaran, and Allyssa Walsh