Nº 3 2013 > Broadband Commission’s gender agenda

Broadband Commission’s gender agenda

Meeting of the Broadband Commission’s Working Group on Broadband and Gender, 16 March 2013, Mexico CityBroadband Commission’s gender agendaCarlos Slim HelúDr Hamadoun I. TouréBrahima SanouA. Reza JafariIrina BokovaHelen ClarkJasna MatiDr Hessa Al-JaberJohn DaviesDoreen Bogdan-MartinGeraldine Fraser-MoleketiKathy CalvinAnne BouverotLouise GuidoMagdalena GajAnn Mei ChangMiguel RaimillaSonia JorgeGülden Türköz-CosslettNancy Hafkin
Meeting of the Broadband Commission’s Working Group on Broadband and Gender, 16 March 2013, Mexico City
Carlos Slim Helú
Dr Hamadoun I. Touré
Brahima Sanou
A. Reza Jafari
Irina Bokova
Helen Clark
Jasna Matić
Dr Hessa Al-Jaber
John Davies
Doreen Bogdan-Martin
Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi
Kathy Calvin
Anne Bouverot
Louise Guido
Magdalena Gaj
Ann Mei Chang
Miguel Raimilla
Sonia Jorge
Gülden Türköz-Cosslett
Nancy Hafkin

Meeting on 16 March 2013 in Mexico City, the Broadband Commission’s Working Group on Broadband and Gender proposed a new target for the Broadband Commission to help end the gender divide in technology. The target is uncompromising, calling for “gender equality in access to broadband by 2020”. As reported in the March 2013 issue of ITU News, this target was endorsed by the Broadband Commission for Digital Development during its seventh meeting, hosted by the Commission’s co-Chair Carlos Slim Helú.

Gender divide in broadband access and use

“We have to make a difference in bridging the broadband divide”, said ITU Secretary-General and Broadband Commission co‑Vice-Chair Dr Hamadoun I. Touré, encouraged to see that so many Commissioners supported the Working Group.

Brahima Sanou, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau suggested that the Working Group might advocate the inclusion of gender in broadband policies, as well as in national plans. Possible steps might include encouraging women to get online, encouraging businesses to recruit women, increasing training for women, and monitoring the gender gap in the information and communication technology (ICT) sector. “We need to empower women through broadband,” underlined Mr Sanou.

As Helen Clark, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Chair of the Working Group, pointed out during the meeting in Mexico, gender inequality is one of the ceilings that hinder countries from moving forward. By failing to ensure that women share the benefits of ICT use and access, countries are failing to take advantage of around half their population. ICT give access to vital services, facilitate participation and engagement in the public sphere, help empower women economically, and help give them voice. However, these challenges are not singularly about infrastructure; many women around the world face a range of challenges (exclusion, unequal access to education and ICT skills, etc.) that need to be addressed. “The deployment of ICT needs to be linked to the real challenges on the ground. We need roll-out, but we need roll-out with equity”, said Ms Clark.

There is a commitment to advance gender equality, but the offline reality of discriminatory practices and constraints that women face daily are reflected online, noted Gülden Türköz-Cosslett, Director of UN Women’s Programme Support, observing that “Women were so instrumental in the online revolution of the Arab Spring, but they have been left out of the political consequences.”

At the first teleconference of the Working Group on 29 January 2013, chaired on behalf of Helen Clark by Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, Director of the Democratic Governance Group at UNDP, the Group agreed on the following, for further deliberation in its face-to-face meeting in Mexico:

  • The creation of a community of practice where practitioners can work together to share knowledge and expertise, a quick mapping of efforts under way to identify best practices and lessons learned.
  • The creation of an interactive dashboard to capture information from the mapping.
  • The development of a report for policy-makers and experts, providing innovative approaches on integration of ICT into development and gender efforts. The report will also use innovative tools for dissemination.

Quantifying the problem

In developing countries, women are 25 per cent less likely to be online than men, reported John Davies, Vice-President of the Intel World Ahead Program. Based on Intel’s analysis, the gender gap is 43 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa, compared with just 10 per cent in Latin America and the Caribbean. Connecting women could yield between USD 13 billion and USD 18 billion in additional gross domestic product (GDP).

Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Chief of ITU’s Strategic Planning and Membership Department, said that globally, 16 per cent fewer women than men are using the Internet. Only 29 per cent of national broadband plans mention gender. ITU is active in publishing gender-disaggregated ICT indicators, in removing gender barriers to ICT education (for example, through its partnership with the Telecentre.org Foundation and in increasing the number of women in the ICT sector).

According to GSMA, a significant mobile gender gap exists, with women 21 per cent less likely to own a phone than men globally. Barriers to female access include cost and affordability, technical literacy, lack of awareness, and perceptions.

Elaine Weidman, Ericsson’s Vice President of Sustainability and Corporate Responsibility, noted that the 80 to 20 male to female ratio for telecommunication employees working in the ICT sector has persisted for years.

Nancy Hafkin, Senior Associate at Women in Global Science and Technology, stressed the importance of data, quoting previous work by UNDP: “ Without data, there is no visibility — and without visibility, there is no inclusion’. We need to know how many women have broadband, and what are they using broadband for?” she asked, suggesting that involving more entrepreneurial women in the Commission’s work would increase the flow of ideas.

Successful initiatives

Various successful examples of what works were cited, including a project by UN Women in Ecuador to train women to use e‑government services to obtain better sanitation and health care. The positive impact of ICT on maternal health has been demonstrated in Uganda, where women are successfully using ICT to access health information. In Kenya, m‑banking opens up new opportunities for female entrepreneurs.

Jasna Matić, Special Adviser for Competitiveness and Knowledge Economy in Serbia’s Ministry of Finance and Economy, noted that girls across the globe use ICT for economic empowerment, education, health care and access to justice.

Anne Bouverot, Director General of GSMA, described projects such as GSMA’s mWomen Programme that could change the lives of millions of women in low- and middle-income markets by facilitating their access to mobile products and services.

Magdalena Gaj, President of Poland’s Office of Electronic Communications, described Poland’s voluntary Lighthouse Keepers project. These Lighthouse Keepers are digital champions who provide adults with the skills needed to participate in the digital world. There is at least one Lighthouse Keeper in every local community, and the project has trained 2640 Lighthouse Keepers and 24 000 adults to date.

Miguel Raimilla, Executive Director of the Telecentre.org Foundation, presented the work the Foundation is doing in collaboration with ITU and other partners. By March 2013, basic training had been provided to nearly 680 000 women.

Another successful platform that was highlighted is SmartWoman, developed by ChangeCorp — a social enterprise based in the United States. SmartWoman is a membership-driven social network which helps enable and empower women in other countries by sharing information about careers, life skills and parenting. “Phase 2 foresees the sales and purchase of goods made by other women”, said Louise Guido, CEO of ChangeCorp.

What next?

Kathy Calvin, President and Chief Executive Officer of the United Nations Foundation, said that the Broadband Commission could play an important policy advocacy role and suggested that it should present recommendations to the High-Level Panel on Post-2015, the Group of 77 and the United Nations Secretary-General.

“Gender needs to be mainstreamed into the Millennium Development Goals and their successors”, said A. Reza Jafari, Chairman and CEO of e‑Development International and co-Vice Chair of the Working Group on Broadband and Gender, stressing that it is time to move on from pilot projects and to scale up initiatives.

According to Irina Bokova, Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), we need to see women and girls as creators of technology, as well as consumers.

Ann Mei Chang, Senior Advisor for Women and Technology in the United States State Department, stressed the importance of referencing gender in the Broadband Commission’s work. “Having an explicit target would signal that gender matters”, she stated.

Women are coming up with innovative entrepreneurial solutions to help other women, according to Sonia Jorge, Research and Consulting Director at Pyramid Research. “Not many broadband plans currently integrate gender — we should support the development of policies and strategies to integrate gender. We need advocates and specialists to turn policy into practical projects,” she said.

Helen Clark, Administrator of UNDP, noted the need to get equal gender opportunity into policy, supplementing efforts by companies and CEOs. “Experience sharing and gender analysis are extremely important — and the question arises whether we should make gender an explicit target or make gender part of each of the Broadband Commission targets. Access is the starting point, not the end-point, while technology is never gender-neutral”, she emphasized.

Axel Leblois, President and Executive Director at G3ict, recalled the need to consider women with disabilities, who account for half a billion people living in the most extreme poverty.

Working Group mandate

At its seventh meeting in Mexico, the Commission endorsed all proposals presented by the Working Group:

  • To create a community of practice where practitioners, experts and stakeholders can share knowledge and expertise, promote best practices and innovation, and focus on scaling up and replicating efforts across other countries and regions. This will involve a mapping of relevant efforts, and the development of an interactive dashboard that will capture all information. This community of practice will also identify critical issues, and can be a powerful global network of stakeholders to promote gender equality. It will reach out to successful women in the ICT domain, especially from developing countries.
  • To develop a report that will help policy-makers to effectively integrate ICT in their development and gender equality portfolios. The report will provide policy tools, examples of successful initiatives, and benchmark indicators to measure progress.
  • To set new target for the Broadband Commission, calling for gender equality in access to broadband by 2020. It further proposed that all the Commission’s reporting and indicators should consider the gender dimension.
  • To extend the membership of the Working Group to successful entrepreneurial women in developing countries. To create a powerful local network to ensure gender markers and involve policy-makers and gender partners. 

Dr Jafari, Cisco, Ericsson, Huawei, Intel, Microsoft, the United States State Department and the United Nations Foundation, all pledged their strong support to achieve the outcomes of the Working Group, among others.

This article is adapted from the Summary Record of the Meeting of the Commission’s Working Group on Broadband and Gender.


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