WSIS Forum: Dialogue on integrating gender equality, women's empowerment and ICT

By Flavia Fascendini Publisher: APCNews     Pergamino,

Many gender equality and women’s empowerment related events are taking place at the World Summit on the Information Society Forum from May 13-17 in Geneva.

As “ICTs are increasingly leveraged as an innovative development tools because they promote more engaged and empowered citizens, flows of information and knowledge and provide new mechanisms for delivering critical services and meeting the 21st century challenges. Yet the virtuous circle that can be created, through better integrating gender into ICT and ICT into gender equality and women’s empowerment, has yet to be fully realized”. How to move beyond pockets of advancement and to adopt systemic, scalable solutions that promote truly transformative change?

To address this question, on Tuesday May 14, a High Level Dialogue on “Women’s Empowerment in the Information Society: Systemic, Scalable Strategies” took place. Moderated by Ms. Deborah Taylor Tate, ITU Special Envoy and Laureate for Child Online Protection, the APC Women’s Rights Programme was present among the advocates and experts speaking, represented by Jac sm Kee. Other panelists were Ms. Gulden Turkoz-Cosslett, Director of Programming at UN Women, Mr. Mario Maniewicz, from the Telecommunication Development Bureau in ITU, Niamh Scannell, Research Director at Intel Labs Europe, Ms. Scovia Umulisa, Statistics Analysis in Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority, and H.E. Mrs. Gaj, President of the Office of Electronic Communications of Poland.

The ITU Secretary-General, Dr Hamadoun Touré opened the panel by pointing to the enormous potential of ICTs to improve women’s lives and the parallel need to get more girls interested in ICT careers. He announced that ITU, UN Women and the UN Global Compact have agreed to launch an international multi-stakeholder consultation process to develop a Tech Sector Roadmap designed to tackle just these challenges. “We will look forward to working with a wide range of stakeholders – including WICTAD and the Broadband Commission Working Group on Gender – as we develop this roadmap,” Touré pointed. “This high level panel has been convened to identify systemic, scalable strategies for empowering women in the Information Society – and I believe that the Tech Sector Roadmap is a perfect example of this, and will make real progress in enabling girls and women to step up to technology and seize the amazing career opportunities ahead,” he said.

Jac sm Kee, in representation of the Women’s Rights Programme, stressed that “we talk about affordability and cost as one of the barriers for women’s and girls’ access but actually in some of the work that we do we find that cultural barriers actually play a bigger role than all of these other things.”

Kee emphasizes that we have to recognise and to address that science and technology is a really masculine culture. Even in open-source software communities safe spaces where women can learn without experiencing sexism are required. An example: Jac cites a program in Bangladesh where there was a lack of community buy-in which stopped girls from coming. Also, when Facebook users found out that the main administer of the page with more than 5 million members called “I fucking love science” was a woman, there was a big surprise in the community. Jac called to address cultural norms as barriers: not just barriers to digital literacy, but also to participate in policy dialogue.

Freedom of expression, censorship on the internet, and patriarchal control of technology should also be considered, according to the WRP speaker. Kee points that it is also about creating enabling conditions for the expression of these human rights. “We need to frame women’s rights in the framework of human rights in regards to ICTs.” Because when we frame women and ICT issues as a human rights issue, we can flip the disempowerment discussion and start proposing solutions, states the WRP member.

ICTs can enable women to exercise a long series of rights and dissemble many things which build inequality. “We should think about gender equality by design, coding equality – language, scripts, privacy to involve private sector,” she urges.

Read the Speech by ITU Secretary-General, Dr Hamadoun I. Touré

Watch the video of the High Level Dialogue .

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