Nº 10 2012 > Women and girls in ICT
Women with the wave in Asia-Pacific and beyond
A digital wave is sweeping the globe. But are women catching the wave or standing on the shore as observers? How can women surf the digital wave and participate more equitably in the knowledge society of the 21st century? Where are the roadblocks that deprive women of the benefits of the new information and communication technologies (ICT)? And have ICT been a liberating force in the portrayal of women across all media platforms? These are some of the key questions that were raised and deliberated by more than 150 delegates from 35 countries who participated in the Women with the Wave: High-Level Forum on Digital Inclusion of Women and Girls, held on 10–11 October 2012 in Seoul, Republic of Korea. The Forum was co-organized by ITU, the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union (ABU) and the Korean Broadcasting System (KBS), with support from several partners such as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the Republic of Korea’s Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, the Korea Communications Commission, and Australia’s Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy.
ICT and broadcast media have an enormous impact on virtually all aspects of people’s lives. Through the magic of ICT and media, time and distance cease to be obstacles. Under favourable conditions, these technologies can increase productivity, generate socio-economic growth, create jobs and employment, and improve quality of life for all — including people with disabilities — regardless of gender, race or age.
Unfortunately, the benefits of the ICT and broadcast media revolution are still unevenly distributed between developed and developing countries and within societies. Women and girls are notably disadvantaged in terms of access and participation. Women and girls are also often “under-represented or even misrepresented on screen/off screen and across all platforms, resulting in serious negative consequences such as impact on self-esteem, sexual identity, social acceptance, peer pressure, gender stereotypes that affect leadership, achievement and career choice”, according to Deborah Taylor-Tate, ITU Special Envoy for Child Online Protection and Co-Chair of Healthy Media Commission.
“The time for change is now, and all of you in this room are powerful agents of change,” said Oscar winning actress and ITU Special Envoy for Women and Girls in ICT, Geena Davis, in her keynote speech. “I’d like to applaud Asian broadcasters, filmmakers, Internet stakeholders, academics and others in taking the lead to change the image of women and girls in ICT. From Korea’s famous K-dramas to Bollywood musicals, we need the characters that will inspire tomorrow’s tech-centered professionals.”
Advocating the message: images, empowerment and successes
A number of film and television documentaries from all over the world highlighted women’s struggles for equality and basic human rights. The productions effectively illuminated the ways in which countless extraordinary women and girls are already doing their part to change the world. Works by creative women who are harnessing the digital wave were also showcased, given the huge influence of moving images, whether in the form of television programmes, documentaries or feature films. Organizations worldwide are seeking to improve women’s lives through globally resonant factual broadcast contents.
In the Forum, prominent women speakers from the Republic of Korea and other countries shared their stories of struggle, perseverance and success in achieving status and recognition within the ICT and media sectors.
ITU empowering women through careers in ICT
Many companies and organizations are actively seeking to hire technically skilled women. In its efforts to increase the number of women in ICT careers, ITU is focusing on three key areas: increasing the number of girls and women who want an ICT career; increasing the number of girls and women who receive an education in science, technology, engineering or mathematics; and encouraging ICT businesses to attract, recruit, retain and promote women to achieve long-term sustainability.
International Girls in ICT Day is the foundation of this strategy. At its 2010 Plenipotentiary Conference, ITU endorsed the celebration of an annual global “Girls in ICT Day” on the fourth Thursday of every April. In 2012, nearly 90 countries organized Girls in ICT Day events, empowering over 30 000 girls.
To celebrate Girls in ICT Day on 25 April 2013, governments, private industry, United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations are being encouraged to invite girls and university students to spend the day at their offices, or organize shadowing programmes with female mentors, to gain a better understanding of the opportunities offered by the ICT sector and to foster the idea that having a career in ICT is good for women and girls, good for business and good for societies.
The ITU report entitled “A bright future in ICT — opportunities for a new generation of women” sends an important message to policy-makers, industry leaders, students and young professionals that current developments and trends will result in the next generation of ICT professionals tapping into many opportunities that call for innovative and entrepreneurial minds. Girls and women can and should be encouraged to take engineering or computer/IT courses, and play active roles in the ICT sector.
“ITU’s Tech Needs Girls campaign, including the recently launched Tech Needs Girls Prize, targets girls aged 9–19 years. This is the time when girls are forming opinions and making career choices. Together, the campaign and prize aim to help girls connect tech with their daily lives, gain confidence in their skills, and find fun in ICT”, said Dr Hamadoun I. Touré, ITU Secretary-General. A strategy of partnerships provides the cornerstone of the campaign, spurring disparate players to come together and amplify the message.
Human talent with the right skill sets will continue to be the key to building vibrant and diversified ICT and media sectors. That talent pool will need to be enriched by the non-discriminatory building of human capital — primarily in universities, research and development centres, and trade and technical schools — to respond to the evolving ICT industry. “More women at all levels in the media and in new technologies is not only morally right but it also makes great sense economically”, said ABU’s Secretary-General Javad Mottaghi.
A combination of approaches that ensure that more girls and women benefit from pro-women policies and are prepared for the future workforce underscores the need for training and career support at three distinct levels: at entrance level by way of education, training, recruitment, internship and career incentives — which requires a national reassessment of educational infrastructure and delivery systems; at mid-career level through career promotion and training; and at management and senior level through mentorship, up-skilling and sponsorship programmes.
At the same time, parents, teachers, career guidance counsellors and recruiters need to shift their own mindsets to acknowledge that ICT careers are an important and viable opportunity for girls. This is important because male students still dominate the engineering and science fields of study (see table).
Forum statement on empowering women through media and ICT
Delegates at the high-level Forum issued a statement calling for greater participation of women in media and ICT sectors across the regions, and urging media industry leaders, governments and international organizations to work harder to promote greater female representation in industry workplaces and on the airwaves. They noted that women and girls make up 50 per cent of the world’s population, and that “equal rights and opportunity underpin healthy economies and societies”.
They stressed the need for a gender inclusive media and ICT environment that empowers women and girls to work in the media and ICT fields across all levels and occupational groups, both on- and off-screen. They also called for women to be given greater access to technological and digital platforms, and advocated for a positive, non-stereotype and balanced portrayal of women and girls.
“We call on all who can assist to recognize the digital wave now sweeping the world and to join us in supporting the preparation of women and girls for the opportunities and benefits which the knowledge society is now bringing to families worldwide, and which will do so even more in the future” the statement says.
More specifically, delegates supported — and called on stakeholders to support — the following:
- implementing the Broadcasting for All: Focus on Gender guidelines;
- determining a framework for the broad provision of training and access to technological and digital media by women and girls;
- applying existing research to achieve a fair portrayal of the stories, faces and voices of the female population;
- championing media leaders who promote balanced content and images of girls and women;
- piloting UNESCO’s Gender Sensitive Indicators for Media to assess and encourage gender equality and women’s empowerment in the media;
- using the media to promote women and girls in ICT, for example by broadcasting stories involving women in ICT careers and by highlighting the Women’s Digital Literacy Campaign;
- getting industry to promote success stories involving women and girls in ICT, through radio and television broadcasts;
- calling on the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union (ABU) to assist smaller media institutions (such as those in island regions and remote areas), thus enabling outreach to empower women and girls in marginalized societies;
- developing and distributing educational modules to introduce students to gender and media/ICT issues, and the role of media in society.
In the Forum statement, delegates paid tribute to ITU, ABU and KBS, the host organization, as well as other partners, for helping highlight the crucial role that media play in promoting women’s full participation in all aspects of life and society.
Launching of ITU’s report “Measuring the Information Society 2012”
A new ITU report, “Measuring the Information Society 2012”, was launched on 11 October 2012 as a joint event with the high-level Forum. The report includes the ICT Development Index, which ranks the performance of 155 countries in terms of ICT infrastructure and uptake. Two countries in the Asia-Pacific region appear among the top in the world: the Republic of Korea ranks first and Japan ranks eighth. The report also features brand new data and analyses on revenue and investment in the telecommunication/ICT sector and proposes a new method to measure the world’s telecommunication/ICT capacity.