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

​Maritage International : Opening Remarks

28 March 2014, New York, USA

Delivered by Kadiatou Sall-Beye at ITU New York Office on Behalf of ITU Secretary-General, Dr Hamadoun I. Touré

Distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure and a real honour to be here with you this evening, representing Dr Hamadoun Touré, Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union, ITU, the United Nations specialized agency for information and communication technologies.

Dr Touré could not be with us here in person today, unfortunately, but he has asked me to deliver these remarks on his behalf.

Dr Touré is tremendously honoured, and humbled, to be cited for his contribution to women’s empowerment through the Art of Technology and Innovation, here at this first international gathering of Maritage – which as you know is a global non-profit initiative, aiming to empower women globally through the power of multicultural art and heritage in economic and social development – and ITU is very grateful for this recognition.

Ladies and gentlemen,

At ITU, we take the issue of gender very seriously, and we were very pleased to see that one of the two main issues raised by Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary-General, at the World Economic Forum in Davos this year was the need to erase gender inequality and harness ‘girl power’ to reach development goals.

We are also proud of the work that has been carried out by ITU’s gender task force in developing an action plan to implement our own gender policy, which was approved unanimously by our membership at ITU Council 2013 last year.

Steps have already been taken to ensure the inclusion of both genders in statutory committees and on all short lists, and all ITU staff will be trained on gender mainstreaming.

In addition:

Distinguished guests,

As many of you will know, we also hold an annual event, ‘Girls in ICT Day’, on the fourth Thursday in April.

International Girls in ICT Day aims to empower girls and young women with the knowledge that careers in ICT can be for them.

There is a predicted skills shortfall in the ICT sector of nearly 2 million jobs in Europe and the US alone. Women can only benefit from these opportunities if they have the necessary science, technology, engineering and math – STEM – skills.

Girls in ICT Day events are designed to inspire girls and young women for a career in the ICT sector by getting a first-hand look at ICT companies, research and innovation centres, government offices, meeting women role models and having hands-on experience with ICTs such as participating in a mobile app lab.

ITU would like to use this opportunity to ask each of you to encourage administrations and companies to organize Girls in ICT Day events on 24 April this year.

To demonstrate the importance of this event, here are some dramatic facts about women in the digital economy in Europe:

Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me close by saying a few words about the UN Broadband Commission for Digital Development, which was set up by ITU and UNESCO in 2010, and in particular about the Working Group on Gender, which was set up in response to a call from Geena Davis right here in New York, 18 months ago.

The Working Group on Gender is a really important Working Group for the Commission – because it has a big chance to make a big impact on a big challenge.

The challenge is getting all the women and girls in the world online – and encouraging half of the world’s population to dream big.

Last September, the Working Group published its report, entitled ‘Doubling Digital Opportunities: Enhancing the Inclusion of Women & Girls in the Information Society’.

The key finding of the report, based on ITU’s data, is that there are 200 million fewer ‘missing’ women online, compared with men. Women are coming online later, and more slowly, than men, especially in developing countries.

That global figure of 200 million fewer women means 200 million missed opportunities.

Based on data profiles from Brazil, which is a very good representative developing country, among those 200 million women who are currently not online, there would have been:

These are very large numbers of women denied access to great opportunities – opportunities that developing countries cannot afford to miss out on.

We have a precious opportunity here to ensure that women and girls are fully included in the expansion of the digital world, and that their voice and presence are shaping the United Nations development agenda and strategies beyond the 2015 Millennium Development Goals.

Distinguished guests,

In closing we should not ignore recent research that has demonstrated that women may be afraid of going online, or constrained from going online, due to dangers – real and perceived – which may await them there.

We need to work harder to overcome these fears and ensure that safeguards are in place to overcome potential online dangers with regard to women and girls, and to ensure that the technologies are positively used.

There has been a spate of recent news stories about girls driven to self-harm or even suicide through social media harassment and aggression. It is not just women and girls becoming connected to the Internet – other people can also then connect with women and girls.

And there is clear new evidence showing that online trolling is linked with domestic violence and abuse – and cannot simply be dismissed as an annoyance.

Partly in response to some of these challenges, ITU has its Child Online Protection (COP) initiative to protect all children (both boys and girls) against online dangers.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Technology offers large-scale opportunities to empower women and girls, creating a systemic cultural shift by improving how they are portrayed and represented. These are the tools that will ultimately allow women and girls to reach their full potential and ultimate goals.

So let’s all make sure that women and girls also have access to the incredible benefits of the online world.

Thank you.