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ICTs for a Sustainable World #ICT4SDG

International Women's Day, 8 March 2013

Statement by Dr Hamadoun I. Touré,
ITU Secretary-General

Violence against women is a social scourge that knows no cultural, economic or geographical boundaries. It is a tragic fact that some 70% of women globally will be the victims of some kind of violence during their lifetimes. Violence takes many forms – from physical harm to verbal and psychological abuse, to  punitive economic actions designed to distress and deprive. In today’s enlightened modern world, we should and must adopt a zero tolerance policy. As ever, technology is part of the mix – for good and for  bad. Simple technologies like mobile phones, social networks and digital cameras can help protect women by providing vital communications links, ways of sharing, supporting and informing other women and their loved ones, and the means of documenting the actions of those who engage in threatening or violent behavior.  The fear of being photographed, recorded or filmed is sometimes enough to serve as a disincentive to violent language or actions. When it is not, an electronic record of such behaviour can help women seek justice and redress.
One of the new provisions in the recently renegotiated International Telecommunication Regulations is a Resolution to create a single, globally harmonized number for access to emergency services. World leaders could consider leveraging this provision to create a globally agreed, easy to remember helpline number for female victims of violence, so that women everywhere could call the same simple phone number for assistance. This could also greatly benefit the millions of female victims of human trafficking.
The technology industry itself also represents an exceptional opportunity for girls and women to carve out rewarding careers that offer both economic independence and a stimulating fast-evolving work environment. My own organization is leading global efforts to attract more women into the tech sector, as well as to train women in poorer countries in basic ICT skills, to enable them to find better-paid jobs and even start their own small businesses.
These are areas in which technology can play a positive role. But we must not turn a blind eye to the darker side. Hate speech against women on the world’s websites has taken a sharp upward turn of late, with anonymity affording a cloak of invisibility to those who seek to abuse and degrade women. I appeal to all online forums and news sites to call an immediate halt to gender-related hate speech. Women have a right to feel safe and protected when speaking their mind, whether in public or online.
As Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union, the UN-specialized agency for digital communications, I champion every woman’s right to access to technology, and believe that technology can play a major role in the UN Secretary-General’s campaign to End Violence Against Women. On the occasion of International Women’s Day 2013, I urge governments and the global ICT industry to work together to harness this powerful tool.
Dr Hamadoun I. Touré