Nº 3 2013 > Cover story
Message from Geena Davis
ITU Special Envoy for
Women and Girls in ICT
As the ITU Special Envoy for Women and Girls in ICT, I am thrilled to be greeting all the girls around the world, as we celebrate International Girls in ICT Day on 25 April 2013.
Technology is offering large-scale opportunities to empower women and girls, creating a systemic cultural shift by improving how they’re portrayed and represented. These are the tools that will ultimately allow women and girls to reach their full potential.
My awareness of gender imbalance in the media came when I started watching children’s television, videos and movies with my then two-year old daughter, Alizeh. I was stunned to see that there seemed to be far more male characters than female characters in these entertainments that were aimed at the youngest of children.
As a result, I launched the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and its programming arm called See Jane. We sponsored the largest body of research ever done on gender images in media. The results are stunning: in American family films there is only one female for every three male characters. In group scenes, only 17 per cent of the characters are female. There was no improvement in those numbers over the last 20 years we studied.
Our research also shows that females are missing from critical occupational sectors in entertainment media.
We recently completed a study on the careers of female characters in popular United States television and film, and found that with regard to STEM* careers, in family films, males hold 84 per cent of all STEM jobs. This calculates into a ratio of 5 male STEM characters to every one female STEM character.
No female leads or co-leads are shown with STEM careers.
Looking across the categories of computer science and engineering, the ratio of males to females in these arenas is 14.25 to one! And in television, characters with STEM jobs are 79 per cent male and 21 per cent female.
I am happy to say that positive role models exist off-screen. Some tech companies, including Hewlett Packard, IBM, Xerox and Yahoo, are headed by women. But there are just 21 female CEOs leading Fortune 500 companies. It is time to change this imbalance.
New and future technologies, especially broadband will be key to 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.
ITU is focusing on 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.
Last September, I participated in the Broadband Commission for Digital Development and was very pleased that these leaders are committed to empowering women and girls as part of the digital revolution and agreed to set up a working group on gender.
A major outcome from a meeting on 17 March 2013 in Mexico City is that the Broadband Commission agreed on an ambitious new target designed to spur female access to the power of ICT. The target mandates no less than “gender equality in broadband access by the year 2020”.
Last October, as Special Envoy, I attended the Women with the Wave: High-Level Forum on Digital Inclusion of Women and Girls, in Seoul in the Republic of Korea. The Asian broadcasters, filmmakers, Internet stakeholders, academics and others demonstrated their commitment to lead the change in the images of women and girls in ICT. From Korea’s famous K-dramas to Bollywood musicals, they are looking for the characters that will inspire tomorrow’s technology-centred professionals.
We have the opportunity to ensure that women and girls are fully included in the expansion of the digital world, and that their voice and presence are shaping the United Nations development agenda and strategies beyond the 2015 Millennium Development Goals.
Let us all join hands to achieve the new gender target from the Broadband Commission. I urge all Member States and global CEOs to fully implement the principles in Resolution 70 (Rev. Guadalajara 2010) on “gender mainstreaming in ITU and promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women through information and communication technologies”.
Everyone participating today is a change agent, and the media and technology sectors will come together and take a leadership role to promote more positive portrayal of women and girls in the media — starting, if I may, with some inspiring tech-savvy role models in film and television. Because changing perceptions will be the real game changer in achieving greater empowerment and participation of girls and women in the technology sector.
Academy Award winner, Geena Davis, is one of Hollywood’s most respected actors, appearing in several roles that became cultural landmarks. In 1989, Davis received the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in “The Accidental Tourist” and won the 2006 Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series — Drama. Davis broke ground in her portrayal of the first female President of the United States in ABC’s hit show “Commander in Chief.”
A long-time advocate for women, Davis is becoming recognized for her tireless efforts on behalf of girls nearly as much as for her acting accomplishments. She is the founder of the non-profit The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and its programming arm See Jane, which engages film and television creators to dramatically increase the percentages of female characters — and reduce gender stereotyping — in media made for children 11 and under.
Davis was recently appointed Special Envoy for Women and Girls in ICT for the UN’s International Telecommunication Union (ITU). Davis is also an official partner of UN Women, working toward their goal of promoting gender equality and empowering women worldwide. Davis is the Chair of the California Commission on the Status of Women.
Davis holds honorary degrees from Boston University, Bates College and New England College.
* Science, technology, engineering and mathematics.