Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great honour and a tremendous pleasure to be with you here in Brussels to celebrate Girls in ICT Day 2013 – and I am delighted to have this opportunity to address the Parliamentary Hearing on Women in ICT.
Here in Brussels, in the second decade of the 21st century, we are all very much aware of the power and importance of ICTs in every aspect of our lives – and ICTs increasingly play a vital role in all societies, in all countries, large and small, rich and poor, and developed and developing.
ICTs are also a huge enabler for women in all communities – especially in the developing world.
Even a simple mobile phone enables women to stay in touch with family and friends; can provide women with access to all kinds of valuable information; and can be a tool for marketing skills and selling products and services.
To give just one example of how powerful information can be, ICTs give women access to healthcare information. This can be absolutely crucial as a mechanism to allow women to research reproductive health issues, for example, which it may be impossible to discuss openly within the community.
Mobile phone applications can also be used to convey information in local languages, or even in pictures, to reach under-educated or illiterate women.
From the pull, rather than the push perspective, mobile phones are now also being used to collect healthcare data on the ground, particularly concerning child and maternal health, so that countries can begin to scale up services as necessary – because you can’t deliver appropriate healthcare services when you don’t know who needs what.
ICTs also continue to deliver huge improvements in education around the world – from innovative simple text-message-based applications to giving women access to the world’s best libraries online.
With ICTs we can deliver basic education in areas such as literacy, entrepreneurship and e-agriculture in ways never before imagined – and given that women do most of the world’s work, this offers enormous potential for improving the lives not just of women but of all the world’s people.
I am proud to be able to report that my organization, ITU – the United Nations specialized agency for ICTs – has a long-standing partnership with telecentre.org, which is on track to train one million women in basic ICT skills, and indeed by March this year we were already past the two-thirds mark, with 680,000 women from 147 organizations trained in 85 countries.
At last year’s WSIS Forum, in Geneva, we saw an inspirational video from telecentre.org of a Filipino woman who had transformed her life from being a domestic helper to running her own graphic design business employing dozens of staff.
ICTs also remain one of the best mechanisms for increasing women’s safety and security, and protecting them against violence – and in particular domestic violence.
Ladies and gentlemen,
In a world where over 95% of all jobs now have a digital component, and where there is a large and growing skills shortage in the ICT sector, we need to get more girls involved in science, technology, engineering and maths, and we need to get more girls taking an interest in ICT careers.
Some progress is being made – and the fact that we are here together today is an enormously positive step.
But we still have a long way to go.
Today, women perform two thirds of the world’s work, and produce half of the world’s food.
But they earn just a tenth of the world’s income and they own just 1% of the world’s property.
It is good news to know that in 2013 there are more women CEOs leading Fortune 500 companies than there ever have been before, and that women now run a significant number of tech companies, including Hewlett Packard, IBM, Xerox and Yahoo.
But there are still only 21 of the Fortune 500 companies – and only 42 of the Fortune 1,000 companies – run by women. We have far to go before we achieve parity.
This also remains true in our work at ITU; it was 1932 before we had our first woman delegate at a major conference, and 1965 – our centenary year – before we had a female head of delegation.
Even today, on the government side there are only 16 women Ministers out of the 193 ITU Member States, and only 10 of the 160 independent ICT regulatory authorities worldwide are headed by a woman.
But I am an optimist, and I am convinced that events such as these – and the hundreds of other Girls in ICT events taking place today around the world – will make a real difference, and that we will see real and dramatic change in the coming decades, as more and more girls study tech subjects, gain tech degrees and pursue tech careers.
Pictures from many of these events will be published on ITU’s ‘Girls in ICT Portal’ which can be found at www.girlsinict.org.
The portal features over 500 programmes such as scholarships, tech camps and online networks, and is set up so people can add their own programmes – so let me invite you to log on and get involved!
For its part, the UN Broadband Commission – which was created three years ago by ITU and UNESCO – set up a working on Broadband & Gender in September last year, in answer to a direct appeal from Geena Davis, to harness the power of broadband to empower women and girls.
As you will know, one of key commissioners is of course Neelie Kroes, Vice President of the European Commission, and our next speaker – and we are delighted to have such a prominent and well-respected figure as part of the Broadband Commission.
The Commission’s working group on broadband and gender had its first formal meeting in Mexico just over a month ago, chaired by Helen Clark, the UNDP Administrator, and I was very pleased to have been able to take part myself, along with the co-Chair of the Broadband Commission, Carlos Slim.
I am convinced that by pulling together, and working together, and by leveraging the collective power of our wills, we can continue to make the world a better place.
And that means making the world a fairer and more equal place – and bringing girls and women into the ICT sector.