It is a fact that women have less access to Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), with 200 million fewer women online globally than men. It is also a fact that women are underrepresented in the ICT sector workforce, where they represent only 6% of the CEOs in the top 100 Technology companies.
Almost 20 years ago, the 4th World Conference on Women in Beijing set the most important global overarching framework for gender empowerment in the world, adopting the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. It called for equal access to economic resources, including information and communication, and called for equal participation in both the technical and decision-making areas of communications and the mass media.
While we still have far to go in realizing the full promise of the Beijing agenda, Beijing +20 is an opportunity to galvanize recommitment at both the national level and within the private sector to promote gender equality in and through ICTs; as Dr Touré said, “this is the time to get women to the tables where the decisions are being made – to shape the world, and to shape its future.”
Next September, the Millennium Development Goals will be replaced by the Sustainable Development Agenda for the post-2015 era. The importance of ICTs has already been recognized as a tool of empowerment for women in the proposed goals; and we need to make sure that stays there when they begin talking about implementation.
The 19th ITU Plenipotentiary Conference has placed the spotlight on Gender Equality and Mainstreaming (GEM) with four events at the conference: GEM-Tech Women’s Ministerial Breakfast, GEM-Tech Awards, GEM-Tech High Level Dialogue and GEM-Tech Gala. Co-organized with UN Women, the GEM Tech Awards were created to highlight the importance of ICTs as a tool for empowerment and celebrate those that have made outstanding achievements in the area of gender equality and mainstreaming through ICTs. The awards were divided into seven categories recognizing the diverse ways in which women’s empowerment can be promoted in and through ICTs.
The awards attracted over 360 nominees from 74 countries. Reading through the applications, I saw that each and every submission was a demonstration of the promise and potential of ICTs to change the world, both by helping women get into the sector, and using ICTs to empower themselves.
Listening to the winner’s acceptance speeches, I was further encouraged by the positive and active pursuit of achieving gender equality within the ICT sector. As Jac SM Kee from Take Back the Tech campaign said, “this award and initiative will continue to empower the curiosity and the capacity of women and girls to take control of technology, to use it in playful, creative and strategic ways to transform the world that we live in.”
The story of empowerment was replicated across many of the projects, with UNESCO Deputy Director-General, Engida Getachew, explaining that the Women in Africa e-learning portal, “is an opportunity to celebrate the women who have shaped Africa and who, in doing so, have changed the world – each of them tells a story of resistance to tyranny and a struggle for human rights and dignity for the empowerment of girls and women.”
But women in technology must also be recognized as key drivers and shapers in the ICT field. iMerit CEO, Radha Basu, stated “our dream is for our women [to be] equal shareholders so they can participate in the global Internet economy.”
The GEM-Tech Awards also honored six Global Achievers – organizations and individuals recognized for exceptional long-term commitment to furthering the issue of ICT and gender – and our gold and silver partners, showing how truly multidimensional the response to harnessing the power of ICTs for the economic and social empowerment of women is. In his speech to the Plenary, H.E. President Kagame stated that “this is a future in which we are committed and one that we owe to future generations: one that is sustainable, inclusive and secure.”
The GEM-Tech Awards are part of ITU’s wider work to promote the power of ICTs to women and girls around the world, with events and programmes including International Girls in ICT Day which has inspired over 100,000 girls through almost 2,700 events in 140 countries; ITU’s Girls in ICT Portal, a one-stop resource to help young women to prepare for and pursue a career in ICT; and working with Telecentre.org, the Women’s Digital Literacy Campaign has trained over one million women in basic computer skills, with 153 organizations and 20,000 telecentres participating around the world.
By: Doreen Bogdan
Mrs. Doreen Bogdan-Martin was appointed the Chief of the Strategic Planning and Membership Department in the General Secretariat as from 1 January 2008. She was previously the Head of the ITU/BDT Regulatory and Market Environment Division and was responsible for the programmes on Regulatory Reform and Economics and Finance. Doreen tweets at @DoreenBogdan and leads the work of the UN Broadband Commission’s Secretariat.