Nº 3 2013 > ITU women pioneers
Interview with Doreen Bogdan-Martin
Gender mainstreaming and gender balance in ITU
Doreen Bogdan-Martin is ITU’s Chief of Strategic Planning and Membership Department, a post she has held since the beginning of 2008. She is the first woman to be appointed to the most senior professional level (D2) at ITU. She was previously the Head of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau’s Regulatory and Market Environment Division. Before joining ITU, she was a Telecommunications Policy Specialist in the United States’ National Telecommunication and Information Administration (NTIA). She holds a Master’s degree in Communications Policy.
Doreen you have been appointed Chairman of the ITU Gender Task Force. What is this task force all about?
Doreen Bogdan-Martin: This task force — composed of representatives (men and women) of the three ITU Sectors and all departments in the General Secretariat — is all about stepping up efforts to reduce the gender divide. The great news is that our organization represents the technologies that can break down this very divide.
A number of factors led to the creation of the task force. In April 2012, the United Nations (UN) Chief Executives Board met at ITU headquarters and endorsed a UN system-wide action plan (SWAP) on gender equality and empowerment of women. The action plan has to be implemented by all organizations, funds and programmes in the UN system. The plan lays out an accountability framework for gender equality and women’s empowerment. A first reporting begins this year.
ITU had already started working in this area under Resolution 70 of the Plenipotentiary Conference (Rev. Guadalajara, 2010) on “Gender mainstreaming in ITU and promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women through information and communication technologies”. During Council 2012, we presented a progress report on ITU’s implementation of this resolution. In the same report, we informed Council about the new UN system-wide action plan.
We also held a collaborative event, a “World Café” on Engendering Change, involving ITU staff and Council Member State representatives. The event generated many great ideas that helped kick-start the discussions in the Gender Task Force.
What is the mandate of the ITU Gender Task Force?
DBM: The mandate of the Gender Task Force is to develop an ITU gender policy. We promised the Council last year that we would report back to the 2013 session with a draft policy. The Gender Task Force has met several times, and we were greatly aided by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights — two of their staff members spent an enormous amount of time with us sharing how they created a gender policy within their organization and giving us advice as to how to advance gender issues within the organization. A drafting group of the task force has held some 15 meetings, and we now have a draft ITU policy on gender equality and the empowerment of women. On 8 April 2013, the policy was presented to ITU’s Management Coordination Group, which endorsed the spirit and overall objective of the policy. The policy will be forwarded to the Council in June 2013 for endorsement.
What proposals has the ITU Gender Task Force come up with to promote gender mainstreaming in ITU and to empower women?
DBM: The policy strives to make ITU a model organization for gender equality, and to leverage the power of information and communication technologies (ICT) to empower both men and women.
Specific objectives of the policy include:
- achieving gender equality within ITU;
- reducing inequalities by developing policies, programmes and projects that would enable both men and women to benefit from ICT;
- strengthening our institutional arrangements for gender mainstreaming;
- providing an accountability framework for gender equality, which will help us both to monitor internally and to report externally to the UN Chief Executives Board.
In operational terms, the policy is basically divided into three parts. The first part looks at organizational culture and staffing, including a lot of human resource matters — having flexible working arrangements and career paths, and promoting inclusive decision-making by involving women in management groups of the organization. The second part looks at programme activities, service delivery and implementation. This includes aspects of gender assessment within our programmes and activities, and encompasses showcasing good practices where ICT are used for the advancement and empowerment of women. The third part looks at governance — the Union’s commitment to gender equality, and ensuring that it is included in our strategic and budget planning.
This year we are going to launch the strategic planning process in preparation for the next Plenipotentiary Conference, to be held in 2014. So it is a golden opportunity to include gender equality in our future plans. Once the Council approves the policy, the responsibility for its implementation will rest with the Secretary-General.
The task force has done a lot of work within just a couple of months. What are the next steps?
DBM: It was a lot of work but the members of the Gender Task Force and particularly the members of the drafting group were enthusiastic about the whole process. During the many meetings there was lots of excitement and debate. We did not always agree on everything, but the end result is something that everyone is pleased with. Now the next part, which is probably even more important than the policy itself, is creating an action plan with deadlines and deliverables. Many proposals were made during the World Café and also in the Gender Task Force. The next challenge will be how to implement these proposals concretely throughout the organization once they have been put into an action plan.
One of the new elements of Resolution 70 was the establishment of International Girls in ICT Day, celebrated annually on every fourth Thursday of April since 2011. What is ITU doing to promote this year’s day?
DBM: Girls in ICT Day is an annual celebration to bring global attention to the need to increase participation of women and girls in the field of information and communication technologies.
Several things are planned this year. First — like last year — we have invited all of our Member States and Sector Members to celebrate the day and to carry out events nationally or within their companies highlighting the importance of girls in ICT. We had a tremendous uptake last year and we hope that the uptake this year will be even greater. The initiative has been championed by ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau.
Second, ITU is organizing two events. We are doing a global event — this is a follow-on to the event held in New York last year. This year the global event is being held in Brussels, co-hosted by the European Commission and ITU. Neelie Kroes, the Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda for Europe, is passionate about this subject. She participated in the New York event last year and immediately offered to host the next one. In Brussels, the ITU Secretary-General Dr Hamadoun I. Touré, along with Ms Kroes and others, will be addressing the European Parliament on the need to increase efforts to encourage more participation of girls in the ICT field. This really is a landmark event and we expect a big impact afterwards.
We are also celebrating the day here at ITU in Geneva. The Telecommunication Development Bureau is holding an event at ITU’s ICT Discovery museum bringing together local students with ICT professionals for a series of inspiring workshops on coding, creating mobile apps and how to manage satellites.
The three-year Tech Needs Girls campaign was launched on 26 April 2012 in New York on the occasion of Girls in ICT Day to raise awareness worldwide of the key role of ICT in gender empowerment. What is the impact of this campaign so far and what other steps are being taken to achieve this objective?
DBM: The Tech Needs Girls campaign is the promotional angle linked to Girls in ICT Day. The two go hand in hand. The campaign aims to tackle the image problem for young girls who might perceive the tech field as being boring and geeky.
The topic of girls and women in technology came up at the September meeting of the Broadband Commission, where we had the privilege of having our special envoy Geena Davis with us. Ms Davis challenged the Broadband Commission to create a working group on gender, and her proposal was met with enthusiastic applause. United Nations Development Programme Administrator, Helen Clark, enthusiastically agreed to chair the group, which had its first meeting in Mexico City on 16 March 2013.
The group is looking at gender from two angles: from the career side (getting more women and girls involved in the technology field and having ICT careers); and, more generally, from the empowerment side (looking at how technology can empower women and girls). The group established a new target calling for “gender equality in broadband access by the year 2020”. This target will be monitored as part of the annual State of Broadband report.
What are the most impressive partnerships that ITU has embarked on in terms of making a difference to girls’ career choices or women’s capacity to serve their communities?
DBM: The good news is that ITU is involved in lots of interesting projects in this area. For example, the Telecommunication Development Bureau has been actively engaged in promoting digital literacy through a partnership with the nongovernmental organization Telecentre.org that has already trained more than 680 000 women worldwide and is on track to train one million women by the 2015 target date of the Millennium Development Goals. ITU has also announced its support to the SmartWoman mobile-based learning programme. Designed initially for second-generation cellular phones and now scaled up to leverage more advanced smartphone devices and tablets, SmartWoman is targeted at low- to middle-income urban and high-income rural women business owners. It offers learning in communication skills, banking, finance, health, and balancing life between family and work.
With some 20 women as CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, there is clearly a women leadership gap. How is ITU doing in this regard?
DBM: If you look at our sector, the numbers are not that much more encouraging. Of the 193 Member States of the Union, we have only 16 women ministers. Of the 160 ICT regulators, only 10 are headed by a woman. Within ITU itself, there have been just two women who chaired the Council. Lyndall Shope-Mafole of South Africa was the first in 1999, followed by Kathleen G. Heceta of the Philippines in 2000. And the first woman ever to chair a World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC) was Veena Rawat of Canada at WRC-03. In 2006, Dr Hessa Al-Jaber of Qatar was the first woman to chair a World Telecommunication Development Conference. Julie N. Zoller and Martine Limodin were the first two women to be elected to the Radio Regulations Board. And so far no woman has chaired the Plenipotentiary Conference.
ITU Member States adopted Resolution 70, yet generally send predominantly male delegations to the Union’s conferences and meetings. While the ITU secretariat cannot tell Member States what to do, are there approaches that it can take to promote a gender balance in leadership roles and to encourage more participation by women ?
DBM: We can work towards achieving a gender balance in the chairmanship and vice-chairmanship of ITU meetings.
We can encourage our Member States to put forward women candidatures for the study groups. This is what ITU’s Telecommunication Standardization Sector (ITU–T) did for the World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly, which revised and adopted Resolution 55, putting in motion positive steps towards mainstreaming a gender perspective in ITU–T activities.
As a decision-maker and ITU’s most senior woman, what advice would you give to women who aspire to a similar career?
DBM: Perseverance and determination are key. Aim high. Be patient, while remaining assertive. Be yourself. Step forward or “Lean in”, as Sheryl Sandberg would say.
Find that balance between work and family. This is perhaps the greatest challenge and a constant juggling act.
We need to support and encourage each other. As Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said, “Every woman who climbs to the top needs to turn around and make sure that she left the ladder standing, so that the next woman coming up can use it.”