Speech from Dr Hamadoun I. Touré, ITU Secretary-General

15th Summit of the Non-aligned Movement – First Ladies Summit
“Enhancing Women’s Role in addressing Global Humanitarian and Health Crises”
Sharm El sheikh, Egypt
16 July 2009

Distinguished colleagues,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to be here with you in Sharm El Sheikh today.

Six weeks ago today, Barack Obama was also here in Egypt, and I was very interested to hear him address the central issue of women’s rights during his important speech on that day.

Obama said that he believed that a woman who is denied an education is denied equality. And that it was no coincidence that countries where women are well-educated are far more likely to be prosperous.

He went on to say that our daughters can contribute just as much to society as our sons, and that our common prosperity will be advanced by allowing all humanity – men and women – to reach their full potential.

With three daughters and two grand-daughters myself, I can only agree, wholeheartedly, with Mr Obama.

Happily, here in Egypt, women are empowered and have equal opportunities. In large part this is thanks to the tireless efforts of Suzanne Muburak, Egypt’s First Lady, and President and Founder of the Suzanne Mubarak Women’s International Peace Movement.

So it was an honour for me to have been able to present her with the ITU’s World Telecommunication and Information Society Day award in Cairo in May 2008, for her special contributions towards building an inclusive and more equitable Information Society.

Also with us here in Egypt for this summit is the Dominican Republic’s First Lady, Dr Margarita Cedeño de Fernández, and she, too, is an ITU World Telecommunication and Information Society Day Award winner – so we are in excellent company today.

Distinguished colleagues,

By embracing the power of ICTs, much more can still be done to enhance the power of women – particularly in the areas of education and health, and by reducing violence against women and young girls.

With improved education and health, socio-economic development inevitably follows – and small things can make a surprising difference.

Medical journals have reported that if mothers in developing countries wash their hands before handling their infants, there is a 60% lower risk of neonatal death.

But most mothers in the developing world do not know this.

ICTs can play a major role in changing that.

One example is the ITU’s ‘Connect a School, Connect a Community’ initiative, which is a new public-private partnership effort to promote broadband school connectivity to serve both students and the communities in which they live.

Connected schools have tremendous potential to serve as community ICT centres which can provide access to services for people in isolated, rural, and marginal urban areas – with a particular focus on groups such as women and girls.

At connected schools, ICT-based training can be provided to teach women basic literacy, ICT literacy, and ICT-enabled career training – for example how to be a village phone lady or how to run a mobile remittance business. Connected schools can also be used for essential e-health dissemination.

Another ICT initiative I would like to mention is Ikraa, which of course simply means ‘read’ in Arabic.

Ikraa has been championed by the Lebanese MP, Dr Ghinwa Jalloul, and uses computer-based literacy training to help people – mostly women – learn to read and write Arabic in just 35 hours. This compares to the nine to twelve months which would normally be required.

Successful pilot projects both in Lebanon and here in Egypt are now complete, and funding is being sought for the next phase, which would implement the programme nation-wide across Egypt.

This is important, because without ICT initiatives such as these, we will never be able to achieve full-literacy – which is the first step on the long road to peace and prosperity.

Full literacy will also lead – as it always does – to dramatic improvements in public health and public services.

ICTs can also make an important difference in reducing violence against women and girls.

To give just two examples, I would like to mention the proliferation of help-lines, which can really help reduce people trafficking and sexual slavery, and the positive effects that end-user sharing has had on empowering women in poor and rural communities.

Two million women and young girls are the victims of human trafficking every year.

One tangible response has been the launching of a help-line in Geneva by End Human Trafficking Now! – part of the Suzanne Mubarak Women’s International Peace Movement – and the Friends of Humanity, and I am proud to say that ITU has agreed to cover the main telecommunications costs associated with this initiative.

On a completely different note, it has also been very pleasing to see how end-user sharing initiatives – such as the Grameenphone Village Phone Ladies’ programme, for example – have played a direct role in empowering women, and in reducing domestic violence.

As women have earned more money– often above the community average – they have also earned more respect and have been able to exercise more social and economic power.

Ladies and gentlemen,

This is all very encouraging, but I would like to highlight a brand new problem being faced by women as they embrace ICTs.

That problem is that the same technology which is bringing a host of exciting and empowering new services within reach, is also enabling the rise of cyber-threats and cyber-crime.

Back in 2005, the World Summit on the Information Society recognized that ICTs cannot flourish in the absence of user trust and confidence in the online world.

That is why we at ITU – as the facilitator of WSIS Action Line C5 on Building Confidence and Security in the use of ICTs – took the important step of launching the Global Cybersecurity Agenda, or GCA.

The GCA is designed as a framework for cooperation and response, and focuses on building partnerships and effective collaboration between all relevant parties – for the good of all those who seek empowerment through the use of ICTs.

I am pleased to report that we have made tremendous progress, particularly in the past year, with the opening of the GCA’s physical home at the IMPACT centre in Malaysia – and I invite you all to find out more on our website at www.itu.int.

In closing, I would like to strike an optimistic note, and to say that I am confident that every woman in the world will have ICTs at their disposal by 2015 – in time to meet the Millennium Development Goals.

And I count it a matter of personal honour to ensure that this happens.

Thank you.