Building Future Leaders and Decision-Makers in the ICT Sector

Date: Thursday, April 26, 2012

Remarks by Lakshmi Puri Deputy Executive Director, UN-Women, New York, 26 April 2012.

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Secretary-General Touré,

Distinguished Panelists,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to be with you today to discuss the important topic of Girls in ICT. Like many of you, I do not work directly in the ICT field, but I have been fighting for spaces which remain male-dominated and where equality is an issue - this is of course the case of ICT.

Coming from India, where the ICT revolution has been an incubator and enabler of development, this aspect has very much been part of my consciousness. Women in India and elsewhere have been empowered by ICT in so many ways. Remote service centers have provided jobs and opportunities to thousands of women and girls; fisherwomen, vegetable sellers and other small traders are using their mobile phones to get a fair price for the good they sell.

Today, I would like to bring the perspectives of UN-Women, a new entity of the United Nations, created to promote gender equality and women's empowerment. After a bit more than a year of existence, we already have a flourishing partnership with the International Telecommunications Union, so that we can bring our common efforts to fruition in the ICT field.

In today's world, ICTs matter immensely for gender equality and the empowerment of women. They provide new avenues for learning, sharing knowledge and education. ICTs are a force multiplier for girls' education, enabling them to build their future on a level-playing field with their male counterparts.

They bring a means of economic development, offering new livelihood opportunities and productive capabilities. They can offer a host of benefits through improved access to services.

They enable women to mobilize for their rights and engage politically through participation and advocacy channels. During the Arab Spring, we have seen how instrumental social media has been in bringing about social mobilization and political change. UN-Women is already promoting ICTs in several countries for more inclusive governance and women's political literacy.

ICTs are also an important tool for the engagement of young women and men, girls and boys in realizing generational change around gender equality issues. In turn, this means overcoming stereotypes and discriminatory attitudes that prevent girls and young women from considering or being supported in pursuing a career in ICTs. It means building awareness and skills, as well as providing clear paths and opportunities.

There are many recommendations that have been made to these ends, including in last year's Commission on the Status of Women which focused on Science and Technology and Education.

More fundamentally, women need to be part of the decision-making process, in the setting of priorities and budgets, the development of infrastructure and technology, and the establishment of enabling environments. This includes exercising leadership throughout the entire technology sector - from policy and regulatory arenas, to educational and research institutions, to the private sector, to content development, and within entrepreneurial activities. In doing so, issues of gender equality should be more explicitly addressed.

Yet, at present, and as indicated in the ITU report being presented today, women are under-represented in the ICT sector as a whole, particularly in higher ranks. We see that even where teenage girls use computers and the Internet at similar rates to boys, they are five times less likely to consider a technology-related career. There is a leaky pipeline as women engage with technology at higher and more productive levels.

When it comes to ICTs, we know of the North-South divide, as well as the socio-economic divide within countries. There is also undeniably a gender divide. Women comprise 30 to 40 percent of lower level workers in the technology sector, but only 15 percent of managers. At the higher level of strategic planners and business owners, only 11 percent are women.

This gap is also visible in wage differences, whereas women earn 17 to 35 percent less than men for the same work, and needs to be urgently addressed.

So, what can be done?

We must start by enabling young women and girls to adopt technology at an earlier age, which makes them more likely to use such tools to empower themselves in all aspects of life and to share their newly acquired knowledge with their families and communities. These same girls - under the right conditions - will have the potential to shape the landscape of ICTs in the future.

Ensuring overall literacy and educational access, improving quality and relevance of ICT education, providing scholarships that are geared toward girls, public media campaigns, and putting in place appropriate policies and investments, and data collection are steps that government and educational institutions can take.

Providing mentoring, job placement tools and development of applications that target girls are all steps that the private sector can take.

It is also important for girls to have access to ICTs not only inside but also outside of school, in safe and accessible environments, which is something a range of partners can support.

And while there are laudable ongoing efforts, we clearly need to increase sensitization and generate greater momentum on this issue in realizing national commitments and closing gaps.

UN-Women continues to advocate for gender-responsive ICT policy. We have supported initiatives that aim to put these tools and capacities in the hands of women.

We have provided digital literacy training to rural women, ICT skill development for young women entering the workforce, and built awareness of national machineries on ICTs so they can lobby for policies to be put in place now that will benefit both women and girls.

Through our Women's Empowerment Principles we also encourage the private sector to attract, retain and promote women to the highest levels. By pushing for women to be present and active in the ICT sector today, we can provide girls with role models and mentors.

UN-Women is actively strengthening our work in ICT for development and exploring how we can engage further with partners - including Microsoft and CISCO - to promote systematic, integrated, sustainable and multi-disciplinary solutions to raise awareness, accelerate action, and realize real transformation.

Targeting young women as beneficiaries and, importantly, future producers and leaders of technological development is key to this and to be sure, will feature in UN-Women's agenda.

Thank you.

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