The potential that technology has to open up the world for women and girls – Executive Director

Opening address by UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at Mobile Learning Week 2015: “Leveraging technology to empower women and girls”, 24 February, UNESCO Headquarters, Paris, France.

Date: Tuesday, February 24, 2015

UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka addresses the opening ceremony of the Mobile Learning Week symposium, held at UNESCO headquarters on 24 February 2015.  UN Women and UNESCO co-host Mobile Learning Week 2015 from 23-27 February in Paris, France, which focuses on leveraging technology to promote girls' and women's empowerment.  Photo: UN Women/Emad Karim
UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka addresses the opening ceremony of the Mobile Learning Week symposium, held at UNESCO Headquarters on 24 February 2015. UN Women and UNESCO are co-hosting Mobile Learning Week 2015 from 23-27 February in Paris, France, which focuses on leveraging technology to promote girls' and women's empowerment. Photo: UN Women/Emad Karim

Director General, Your Excellencies, Ms. Blair, distinguished colleagues, teachers, students, innovators, learners,

Let me first express my gratitude to our colleagues in UNESCO for inviting UN Women to co-organize this year’s Mobile Learning Week 2015. It is a great privilege to partner with you in this flagship event.

This is a dream come true for me. I have come full circle, having been to the Mobile Learning Week twice before as an adult learner/researcher in technology. Even then I was thinking about how to integrate gender issues into this event. And today I am here, as co-organizer, with a sister agency that represents the intrinsic value of knowledge, science, culture and heritage. UN Women has the responsibility and the honour to champion gender equality and women’s empowerment. Our mandates make our collaboration critical and highly desirable.

 “Leveraging technology to empower women and girls” is the theme for this year’s Mobile Learning Week.

This theme is a powerful expression of the potential that technology has to open up the world for women and girls.

In the past 20 years of implementing both the Beijing Platform for Action and the Millennium Development Goals it has been demonstrated and well documented how families, communities and nations benefit from investing in girls and women.

Today the majority of the world’s poor are women. Education has a significant role to play in sustainable poverty reduction, and technology has an important role to play in large-scale delivery of education in the most remote and poor areas – but only if we make sure that the technology is affordable and accessible. 

This is our opportunity to hear from you and to apply our minds on how we close the technology gap in the best interests of the most underserved people of the world.

Solutions to these problems exist. What we need is to direct the solutions where they are needed; to ensure the size of investment made is adequate to address a large-scale problem; and to ensure enabling policies and leadership that is determined to be game-changing.

We are the first generation that has a significant possibility to substantially reduce poverty; impact positively on climate change; break the back of gender inequality; and ensure universal access to education in all parts of the world.

All of this needs technology and highly determined leadership at different levels and in different sectors, in government, the private sector, civil society, professional bodies, and multilateral organizations. And it needs innovative funding that will make it affordable to those who need it most.

Because women are ready and willing to embrace the changes.

I saw this for myself on a visit to India. In Gujarat, I met village women who are using IT – text messaging, videography, and community radio among others – to lobby for better sanitation systems and infrastructure and to keep their leaders accountable.

Maybe some of them would be called illiterate but they were using the technology that is available to them. We are privileged as UN Women through our Fund for Gender Equality to be partners with these extraordinary women in Gujarat.

In this way mobile technology becomes an enabler of education. Mobile technology, in the hands of the people, especially the most poor, can offer learning where there are no books, no classrooms, even no teachers.

As keen supporters of the use of mobile technology, however, we need to be aware that alone it is not optimum for satisfying all of the complex needs of poorly served people. It is an important enabler of access to a very large pool of people, as well as a catalyst and an introduction to more possibilities and types of technologies.

Given the youthfulness of the population in developing countries, technology can be used to leverage a demographic dividend as youth are keen and early adopters of technology.

This year we mark the fact that it is 20 years since the Beijing Platform for Action was adopted. There has been progress in the last 20 years. But it has been uneven and it has been slow.

With this year’s post-2015 sustainable development agenda we must make the case for gender equality: 2015 to 2030 should be the last mile and we must break major barriers for achieving gender equality.     

The fight for gender equality should not be an open-ended agenda. It has to be time bound as we aim for bold, measurable changes in the new Sustainable Development Goals planned for 2015-2030.

We will need technology to make bold progress, and we will need mobile technology to close the user gap that characterizes and restricts device-poor communities so that we can fast track adoption process and the benefits of technology.  

With UNESCO and UNFPA we are about to pilot a joint programme that will support girls’ education, especially those who need a second chance. Technology will also play a big part in this programme.

With the help of technology we have called on men and boys to be partners in the fight for gender inequality. Our HeForShe campaign calls on men and boys to take an action-oriented stand on gender inequality. We have started a conversation with groups of men, leaders in government and youth discussing the role of men and the actions to be taken to accelerate the achievement of gender equality. 

We see our collaboration with UNESCO as game-changing in our joint fight against gender inequality.  

The rich programme which you will share this week is meant for all of us to learn something new, to make new partnerships and to inform our work to ensure the empowering effect of education is indeed for everyone – girls and boys, men and women.

I wish you all a very successful and inspiring Mobile Learning Week!

Thank you.