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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.