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Women ICT leaders connect and unite at PP-22 networking breakfast

By ITU News

The day after the first woman was elected as Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), women at the organization’s Plenipotentiary Conference (PP-22) gathered for a networking breakfast and high-level panel.

The women’s breakfast was jointly organized by ITU, host country Romania, and Australia, which provided financial support and training for 100 women delegates to take on leadership roles at PP-22.

A new era

ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao greeted the delegates at the breakfast, noting the “wonderful result” of Doreen Bogdan-Martin’s election as the next Secretary-General of the 157-year-old organization. For the last 75 years, ITU has kept pace with an evolving landscape as the United Nations specialized agency for information and communication technologies (ICTs).

“Now we have a new era,” Zhao said, congratulating the women gathered in the Unirii Room of Bucharest’s Palace of Parliament.

“You are a good example of how women can show their talent and contribution to ICT development and to ITU activities. Without your active participation in our meetings, or your efforts to improve gender balance, we could not be here today.”

Secretary-General-elect Doreen Bogdan-Martin was next to greet the breakfast audience.

“Looking out at all of you fills me with hope – there are so many competent women here,” she said.

But women’s participation at PP-22 still only amounts to 33 per cent. “We have to do better,” Bogdan-Martin said, echoing Apple CEO Tim Cook’s observation that “there are no good excuses for not having more women in technology. We have to do more.”

She encouraged the women delegates to keep up the momentum of recent years, with more girls and women taking an interest in traditionally male-dominated technology careers, along with the associated policy processes.

“I hope we can count on each of you to take an action: mentor other women, support them. Now the real work begins,” added Bogdan-Martin.

“Let’s aim at the next Plenipot to have 50 per cent or more women leaders.”

PP-22 Chair Sabin Sărmaș, who also heads Romania’s parliamentary commission for technologies, congratulated the Secretary-General-elect on her historic win.

“You are living proof that women belong and deserve to be at the table of ICTs,” he said.

ITU Deputy-Secretary General Malcolm Johnson also added his support.

“Over my 40 years in ITU as a delegate and elected official, I have seen many changes,” Johnson said. “But nothing more than the increased prominence of women in ITU, including in delegations.”

Greater numbers of women at the ministerial level at PP-22, he added, shows things are “changing for the better.”

Striving for equality around the world

As the breakfast continued, high-level women representatives from six world regions shared national initiatives to bridge the digital gender divide.

The panel was moderated by Lisa Gittos, First Secretary at the Australian Permanent Mission to the United Nations, and Cristiana Flutur, Head of International Affairs at Romania’s National Authority for Management and Regulation in Communications (ANCOM), who welcomed delegates to an unprecedentedly  gender-responsive Plenipotentiary Conference on behalf of the host country.

Crossing the “psychological barrier” of more than 30 per cent delegates being women is a great achievement, affirmed Ursula Owusu Ekuful, Ghana’s Minister for Communications and Digitalisation. “We can’t go below that. We can exceed that. I look forward to the next Plenipot, where we will achieve 50 per cent and more.”

Nationally, she added:

“Our focus is on narrowing gender divide by implementing concrete programmes to make sure we have more women at the table based on merit, not in a patronizing manner just to make the numbers.”

Ava Nadir, Commissioner of the Iraqi Communication and Media Commission (CMC), leads initiatives on women’s empowerment and digital inclusion.

“We are drafting a policy to support protecting women and children online from cyberbullying, and the different threats that come with the privilege of connectivity,” she said.

Olga Tumuruc, Head of Moldova’s E-Governance Agency, described steady but incremental progress for women in government and the industry.

“Five years ago, we were few women, not involved in ICT but in administrative work. Now we are more than half, with many leading and managing complex, difficult projects that are real game-changers at the national level,” she said, adding:

“Two of the biggest information-technology companies in Moldova are led by women.”

Many countries have integrated gender issues into wider development policies.

“The Kyrgyz Republic is paying attention to inclusive growth,” said Abdullaeva Jibek Sadykbaevna, Chair of the State Communications Agency.

“Our strategy for sustainable development until 2026 is about the necessity to ensure economic improvement of women, increasing their representation at the decision-maker level.”

Jocelle Batapa-Sigue, Undersecretary of the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) of the Philippines, shared why she champions job-creation initiatives.

“Today, I am proud that the [country’s] five million online freelancers, who are part of a robust and steadily growing economy, is composed of 60 per cent women digital workers,” she said, adding that her government carries out projects “towards upskilling our women population, in emerging technologies particularly.”

Mercedes Aramendia, President of the Uruguayan Regulatory Unit of Communication Services (URSEC), suggested the tipping point for gender equality was approaching.

“We are in a historical moment – everything is changing very fast,” she observed. “We need to thank Doreen [Bogdan-Martin] and every woman that precedes us for all the work that came before. Now we are here. All the work we do will help those that come later.”

Moderator Gittos echoed these sentiments, encouraging delegates to take the conversation with them as they headed to another day of plenary discussions.

“Gender equality is about more than just a breakfast,” she concluded. “It’s about every decision you make in your negotiations.”

High-level panel and networking breakfast – Strengthening women’s empowerment and leadership in the ITU

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