Nº 2 2013 > International Womens Day 2013
Ending violence against women
How technology can help
Dr Hamadoun I. Touré, ITU Secretary-General
Violence against women is a social scourge that knows no cultural, economic or geographical boundaries. It is a tragic fact that some 70 per cent of women globally will be the victims of some kind of violence during their lifetimes. Violence takes many forms — from physical harm to verbal and psychological abuse, to punitive economic actions designed to distress and deprive. In today’s enlightened modern world, we should and must adopt a zero tolerance policy.
As ever, technology is part of the mix — for good and for bad. Simple technologies such as mobile phones, social networks and digital cameras can help protect women by providing vital communication links, ways of sharing, supporting and informing other women and their loved ones, and the means of documenting the actions of those who engage in threatening or violent behaviour. The fear of being photographed, recorded or filmed is sometimes enough to serve as a disincentive to violent language or actions. When it is not, an electronic record of such behaviour can help women seek justice and redress.
A resolution in the International Telecommunication Regulations treaty that was updated by the World Conference on International Telecommunications in December 2012 calls for the creation of a single, globally harmonized number for access to emergency services. World leaders could consider leveraging this resolution to create a globally agreed, easy to remember helpline number for female victims of violence, so that women everywhere could call the same simple phone number for assistance. This could also greatly benefit the millions of female victims of human trafficking.
The technology industry itself represents an exceptional opportunity for girls and women to carve out rewarding careers that offer both economic independence and a stimulating fast-evolving work environment. My own organization is leading global efforts to attract more women into the technology sector, as well as to train women in poorer countries in basic information and communication technology (ICT) skills, to enable them to find better-paid jobs and even start their own small businesses.
These are areas in which technology can play a positive role. But we must not turn a blind eye to the darker side. Hate speech against women on the world’s websites has taken a sharp upward turn of late, with anonymity affording a cloak of invisibility to those who seek to abuse and degrade women. I appeal to all online forums and news sites to call an immediate halt to gender-related hate speech. Women have a right to feel safe and protected when speaking their mind, whether in public or online.
As Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union, the United Nations specialized agency for digital communications, I champion every woman’s right of access to technology. Further, I believe that technology can play a major role in the campaign launched by the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki‑moon, to end violence against women. On the occasion of International Women’s Day 2013, I urge governments and the global ICT industry to work together to harness this powerful tool.