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WRS-22: The quest for a gender-balanced radiocommunication future         featured image

WRS-22: The quest for a gender-balanced radiocommunication future        

By ITU News

The whole field of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) remains heavily male-dominated all over the world. Information and communication technologies (ICTs) and their crucial subset, radiocommunication services, are no exception.

“STEM needs more women,” said Joanne Wilson, Deputy Director of the ITU Radiocommunication Bureau at the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

“With the right guidance and effective role models, more girls and women could find opportunities in this diverse field, full of exciting career possibilities.”

Last year in ITU News Magazine (2021, No.2), Wilson suggested that science could achieve equality “if future generations of scientists and technologists — whether researchers, practitioners, policy-makers, or educators — reflect our diverse global community.”

While the industry may miss out on a large pool of talent, the gender imbalance also pervades the policy-making and regulatory realm, including the technical committees and global conferences that harmonize the sharing of radio-frequency spectrum and associated satellite orbits.

ITU – the United Nations specialized agency for ICTs – regulates and coordinates spectrum use and associated orbits through the international Radio Regulations treaty, updated every four years at the World Radiocommunication Conferences.

As the next edition of the conference approaches, ITU is looking to boost the participation and engagement of women from all regions, as well as raising their profile key decision-making roles.

“We want to see more leadership opportunities for women and are now preparing ITU delegates for nominations to WRC leadership positions,”

explained ITU’s Senior Radiocommunication Engineer Véronique Glaude at a key seminar ahead of the upcoming conference, WRC-23.

The Network of Women for WRC-23 – known for short as NoW4WRC23 – is encouraging women to get involved, in line with the Gender Declaration at the last conference (WRC-19) calling for parity across the ITU Radiocommunication Sector (ITU-R).

“The Network of Women initiated by the ITU Radiocommunication Bureau is dedicated to promoting women in radiocommunications, telecommunications/ICT, and related fields, to enhance the inclusion of women and girls in the Information Society, and to help meet the UN Sustainable Development Goal on achieving gender equity,” emphasized Mario Maniewicz, the Bureau Director responsible for ITU-R activities.

Networking and mentoring for equality

The sector-level women’s network, active since 2016, seeks a more gender-balanced WRC as a key step towards gender equality in the radiocommunication sector. NOW4WRC23 provides a forum for networking, mentoring, and knowledge-sharing through the conference preparatory stage at the regional and global level.

Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic in the current conference cycle, the network has grown to encompass six active regional groups led by NoW4WRC23 regional co-chairs. They include experienced officials and experts networking with up-and-coming female professionals.

“As we return to physical meetings, women must continue to participate and get involved,” explained Glaude at the recent World Radiocommunication Seminar (WRS-22), inviting attendees to join the NoW4WRC-23 mentoring programme.

Started in March 2021 and open to ITU-R members, the ITU mentoring programme complements activities in each ITU region, aiming to familiarize women with the intricate WRC technical study and meeting processes before they attend as delegates. Mentors can be men or women, while mentees are women from all regions of the world, Glaude explained.

To date, the programme has achieved 56 pairings, with 25 more mentees still needing to be paired. “We need more mentors,” Glaude said, adding that most of the network’s mentors so far come from only one of the regional groups preparing for the WRC.

“So we are looking for more geographic diversity as well.”

Across the sector, around the world

WRC-23 – taking place in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, between 20 November and 15 December 2023 – is expected to bring together delegates from most of ITU’s 193 Member States, as well as from hundreds of companies, organizations and research institutions focused on radiocommunications.

Member States recently elected Doreen Bogdan-Martin as ITU Secretary-General, making her the first woman ever to head the 157-year-old organization. ITU was first established to regulate the telegraph and later became a UN specialized agency.

At the last quadrennial world radiocommunication conference, WRC-19, only 19 per cent of the 3,420 registered participants were women. These included 1 out of 18 ministers, 5 out of 10 deputy ministers, 2 out of 20 ambassadors, and 30 out of 230 heads of delegation. 

As ITU’s previous Secretary-General, Houlin Zhao, remarked in 2019 on the adoption of the resolution committing ITU-R to gender parity, equity, and equality: “Society as a whole will benefit from the participation of women in technology development, policy-making and decision-making, and I urge our Member States and Sector Members to include women in all aspects of ITU-related activities.”

Statistics from STEM Women anticipate that three women for every seven men will be working in STEM jobs globally by 2030 – still far short of parity or equality.

“Let’s network to raise expectations and put the WRC ahead of the curve,” suggested Glaude.

Image credit: ITU/D. Woldu

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