Your Excellency Minister Kim
Kum-law, Mr. Gil Hwan-Young, Dr. Kim Gwang-jo, Dr Eun Ju kim, Mr. Javad
Mottaghi, distinguished delegates, Ladies and gentlemen.
It gives me great pleasure to
join you today to deliver my keynote address at the Women with the Wave: High
Level Forum on Digital Inclusion of Women and Girls in this beautiful city of
Today I’m going to share with you
stories of a few experiences that led me down new paths – paths that were not
part of my original plan and the impact they have had on my life and my work
toward improving gender equality for girls and women. I’ve appeared onscreen as
everything from a pirate captain to the President of the United States, but the
first role I ever played was a man.
As little girls back in the
1960s, my best friend and I played-acted brave characters from TV westerns in
her backyard. Because I was taller, I would often play the father, and she’d be
my son. And, because we were young, we never noticed that there were no female
characters we wanted to pretend to be from movies or TV.
I’ve spent most of my adult life
advocating for women and girls, and one a small way has been by seeking roles
women may appreciate; roles where the female character is in charge of her own
About eight years ago, I launched
the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and its programming arm, called
“See Jane.” I did so because I wanted
the data on one very specific thing: how many female characters were there in
children’s media? You see, when I started watching children’s programs, videos, and kid’s movies with my
then-two-year-old daughter, Alizeh. I
was stunned to see that that there seemed to be far more make characters than
female characters in these entertainments aimed at the youngest of children. I
checked with my associates and industry leaders –no one seemed to be aware of
the serious gender imbalance we’re feeding kids through the images they see.
In fact, the most common response
was, “No, no, that’s been fixed”. My Institute sponsored the largest research
analyses ever done into the content of movies and chidlren’s television
programs in the United States at the Annenberg School for Communication at the
University of Southern California, performed by Dr Stacey Smith.
The results were stunning – even
though I knew in my heart what they would (303) likely be: at the dawn of a new millennium – when half of the global population is female – the message sent to
children is that women and girls do NOT
take up half of the space in the world.
Currently, in U.S. family films,
for every one female speaking character there are three male characters. In
crowd and group scenes, only 17% of the characters are female. 17%! No one-
least of all children – is seeing images of boys and girls sharing the sandbox
equally. We’d like to assume today that the marginalization and invisibility of
female characters, especially in entertainment made specifically for children,
would be long gone - a relic of the past.
Unfortunately, the reality is
that female marginalization remain deeply entrenched in today’s entertainment,
and there has been no significant progress over the last twenty years our
research covers. Well, I shouldn’t say no progress: the increase in female
characters in family films over the last two decades is 0.7%. By my
calculations, if we add female characters at that rate, we will achieve parity
in 700 years.
The stark gender inequality in
media aimed at children is of significant importance to our discussions on
Women and Girls in ICTs, as TV and movies can wield enormous influence on young children as they are developing a sense
of their role in society as well as forming ideas about career choices. Our research
shows that females are missing from critical occupational sectors including
We recently completed a recent
study on the careers of female characters in popular TV and Film and found that
in family films males hold 83.8% of all STEM jobs. This calculates into a ratio
of 5 male STEM characters to every one female STEM character. No female
protagonists 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, there are 78.9% male and 21.1%
female with STEM jobs. What message are boys getting about the worth and
importance of girls, if media don’t show girls taking up space equal to their
Seeing women take their full role
will enhance awareness of the benefits for the family and community of women’s
empowerment, professional training, and non-traditional career choices. We know when girls see characters engaging in
unstereotyped activities, it can heighten their likelihood to pursue careers in
the STEM fields. If boys see girl characters engaged in STEM fields, they will
come to see it it as the norm and not the exception. So, what can we do to
improve the status of girls and increase their participation in ICTs?
Well, we know what the Asia
Broadcasting Union is doing: they are creating initiatives such as the Project
on Gender Mainstreaming in Broadcasting which I have learned was implemented in
a number of countries in the Asia Pacific
region, the latest one being in the Maldives as a joint ABU-ITU action.
May I join with so many others in saluting you for this very important work.
I’m very pleased to be one of the
champions of ITU’s recently launched ‘Tech Needs Girls’ campaign, a global
initiative in the area of education that aims to encourage girls to play a much
more substantive role in the technology sector, including by promoting women in
The time for change is now, and
all of you in this room are powerful agents of change. I’d like to applaud
Asian broadcasters, filmmakers, Internet
stakeholders, academics and others to take the lead to change the image of
women and girls in ICTs. From Korea’s famous K-dramas to Bollywood musicals, we
need the characters that will inspire tomorrow’s tech-centered
There is a whole generation of
young girls who will be influenced by the images they watch, whether in the
movies, online videos, social network sites, video games and beyond. If they can see it, they can be it! Korean
entertainment launched the Korean Wave that has spread across the Asia Pacific
region and beyond. Which makes Seoul
the perfect venue for launching this Gender Media Forum, Women with the
Wave, and I am honored to be here on this auspicious occasion.
I’m convinced that the waves we
create at this Forum, will improve both the status of women working in media
and ICTs and foster a more just media portrayal of women and girls.
Thank you very much.