Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great honour and a tremendous pleasure to be with you here in Geneva this morning for the Official Opening of the Fifth International NGO’s Forum in Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of Women. It gives me the opportunity to congratulate my Sister Princesse Makou Djouma for her dedication and passion to the cause of Women and Children and reitirate the support of my Organisation, the ITU, the UN Agency dealing with Information and Communications Technologies, ICTs.
Here in Geneva, 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.
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 – 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 women 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 22 of the Fortune 500 companies – and only 43 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 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.
At ITU, we are working hard to achieve gender equality within our own organization, and the 2013 Session of ITU Council endorsed a landmark policy to further mainstream gender equality across the whole range of ITU’s strategic plans, activities and programmes.
ITU also works to help increase the number of women pursuing ICT careers as well as leveraging ICTs themselves to increase the social and economic empowerment of women and girls.
We have a three-pronged approach to increasing the number of women in ICT careers: firstly, to create demand among girls and women for careers in ICT; secondly, to ensure a better supply of science, technology, engineering and maths education to girls and women; and thirdly, to achieve long-term sustainability by encouraging ICT businesses to attract, recruit, retain and promote women.
We are also undertaking various initiatives in terms of leveraging ICTs themselves for women’s empowerment, including our long-standing partnership with telecentre.org, which has already trained over 800,000 women in digital literacy, and is now looking at moving into a further, second phase, aiming to train two million women.
ITU also maintains a ‘Girls in ICT Portal’ at www.girlsinict.org
, which features over 500 programmes such as scholarships, tech camps and online networks.
Finally, ITU is also the organization behind the annual ‘Girls in ICT Day’, which saw over 1,500 events organized in 2013 in more than 120 countries around the world.
For its part, the UN Broadband Commission – which was created three years ago by ITU and UNESCO – set up a Working Group 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. The Working Group is chaired by Ms Helen Clark, Administrator of UNDP.
A major outcome from the working group will be the publication in just over two weeks time of a new report highlighting the importance of achieving broadband gender equality globally.
Let me close, therefore, with an appeal for all of us to continue working and pulling together to leverage the collective power of our wills – to make the world a fairer and more equal place.