Nº 8 2012 > In focus
Women and girls in ICT
- Geena Davis rallies Broadband Commission
In this first article of our new series on Women and girls in ICT, we report on a successful pitch by Academy Award-winning Actor and Advocate Geena Davis to the Broadband Commission for Digital Development to create a new working group around technology and gender.
Such a working group could help to make fast progress in harnessing the power of broadband to empower girls and women.
Ms Davis spoke to the Broadband Commission, not as an Academy Award-winning Actor, but as ITU’s Special Envoy for Women and Girls in the field of technology, and as the founder of the Geena Davis Institute for Gender in Media. This institute works in advocacy, education and research, with the specific aim of engaging, educating and influencing the media and entertainment industry on the need for gender balance.
A personal odyssey
Ms Davis explained how, when watching children’s films and television with her young daughter, she was struck by the lack of female characters and the gender stereotyping.
Quantifying the problem was the first step. Her institute conducted the largest research project on gender images in film and television ever undertaken, and the results were shocking: in family films, on average there was only one female character for every three male characters. In group scenes, only 17 per cent of the characters were female. And negative stereotypes were ingrained in children through repetitive viewing.
Images, movies and games
Broadband networks are increasingly serving as the key channel for content delivery of images, movies and games. Increasingly, people are bypassing traditional entertainment devices and getting most of their media content online. Home video gaming is now the fastest-growing segment of the international media market, and estimated to be worth over 70 billion dollars annually worldwide. Analysts in the United States are forecasting double-digit compound annual growth in Internet advertising. Internet protocol television is taking off worldwide, and YouTube now has over 800 million viewers every month, with new videos going up at a rate of 60 hours of new content every minute, in 54 different languages.
Women’s engagement and empowerment through broadband
It is clear that broadband is having a transformational impact on the entertainment industry. But broadband is much more than that. Broadband-connected devices, from desktop computers to smartphones to tablets, have enormous potential to empower girls and women by giving them access to essential services such as education, healthcare advice, and personal security. Women in rich countries take these services for granted. But for most women in the world, these are hard-won privileges, or are simply not available at all.
The United Nations has recognized the global gender power imbalance and made empowerment a Millennium Development Goal in its own right. Broadband will be key to meeting this goal, with existing and new technologies providing women with the means to educate themselves and their children, improve their own health and the health of their families and communities, start their own businesses, keep themselves safe, and innovate to build and shape the future they want.
Advocacy role for the Broadband Commission
The influential group of leaders that constitutes the Broadband Commission can speak out strongly for the greater engagement and empowerment of girls and women in the digital revolution that is taking place all around us.
In the technology sector itself, women and girls can make a powerful contribution as future entrepreneurs, content creators, role models, employers and employees. They must be fully included in the vision of tomorrow’s digital world.
Calling on the Broadband Commission to create a new working group on technology and gender, Ms Davis said that “changing attitudes will be the real game changer in achieving greater empowerment and participation of girls and women in the technology sector”. She saw such a working group as endeavouring to quantify the current situation and to identify opportunities for progress.
A million dollars and more
The call to action eloquently delivered by Ms Davis was enthusiastically received by the Commission, which immediately agreed to establish a “Broadband Commission Working Group on Gender”, with a specific focus on how to better engage and empower girls.
The working group will be headed by Helen Clark, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme. It received a spontaneous donation of USD 1 million from Commissioner Reza Jafari. Members of the Commission will prepare a special report on opportunities and barriers for girls and women, to be presented at the next meeting of the Commission in Mexico City in March 2013.
“The creation of this new Broadband Commission Working Group on Gender is a positive step forward in extending the benefits of broadband to all, and accelerating progress in meeting the Millennium Development Goals,” said ITU Secretary-General Dr Hamadoun I. Touré, referring to “the catalytic role ICT can play in gender empowerment.”