UN Women calls for women’s meaningful engagement with ICTs to become the rule, not the exception
13 June 2014
At the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS)+10 held in Geneva on 10
June, UN Women Deputy Executive Director Lakshmi Puri called on stakeholders to
invest and undertake interventions and special measures to ensure women’s
During the first two WSIS events in 2003 and 2005,
the international community agreed on a set of commitments that recognized
information and communication technologies (ICTs) as enablers for development.
But the outcome documents lacked a lead facilitating agency for gender, as well
as monitoring mechanisms around cross-cutting gender issues.
from governments, civil society and the UN system, UN Women was successful in
lobbying to rectify gaps and promote more robust and accelerated action for
women’s digital inclusion and empowerment. Following a multi-stakeholder
negotiation process which started in October 2013, the WSIS+10 Forum held in
Geneva this week approved a final outcome document which has many important
references to gender equality. It refers to taking joint and practical measures
in implementing commitments, to redress discrimination, contribute to ending
violence and harassment, and to promote meaningful access and full integration
of women’s needs and perspectives for their full and effective participation.
Moreover, UN Women was given a facilitation role in implementation and
monitoring these commitments. See the full text of the WSIS+10 Outcome Document
for more detail.
UN Women is engaged in ICT-for-development work at the
global and field level through programming in every region and across all our
focus areas. Read Ms. Puri’s full speech at WSIS+10 below:
Excellencies, distinguished delegates, colleagues and partners,
ladies and gentlemen,
As we approach 2015 and chart a course for the
decades ahead, we have an incredible opportunity to aim high, tackle persistent
challenges such as inequalities, and apply innovation and creativity for
building sustainable, adaptive and resilient societies. ICTs and the knowledge
society they support are critical to this picture.
As a result of ICTs
we are facing a future that is at once thrilling and ripe with possibilities for
positive transformation, perhaps somewhat daunting in the pace and scope of
change, and gives pause for caution as we negotiate critical issues such as
inclusiveness, safety and privacy. Collectively directing these tools and
structures of the information society to respond to all of humanity’s needs is
an imperative and directing them to women’s empowerment and gender- equality is
essential to this effort.
We cannot talk about inclusiveness, social
justice in the information society, and bridging the digital divide without
putting women at the centre of the conversation. Indeed, one of the divides we
need to bridge is the gender divide. Women’s empowerment and gender-equality and
ICT are mutual enablers and beneficiaries for each other. Those in turn are
enablers of sustainable development in its three dimensions, economic, social
We have much to build on.
Let me take us back not to 2005 or 2003 when the WSIS process commenced but to
1995 when the Beijing Platform for Action was agreed. In defining women’s rights
and critical areas for action, we saw a visionary position and dedicated section
on ICTs within the platform alongside issues such as education, economic
empowerment and political participation. There was recognition of the importance
of ICTs even before their ubiquitous use, and the strong will to ensure that
these technologies responded to the needs of women, promoted women’s active
participation in society, and emphasized their active role as leaders in these
Many of these same issues were later captured in the WSIS
outcomes. The importance of women’s access, capacity-building, content, women’s
leadership in the information society, and digital empowerment of women and
girls was recognized in previous WSIS outcome documents. The Geneva Declaration
of Principles calls for women to be key actors in the information society, that
the information society should enable women’s empowerment and that a gender
equality perspective should be mainstreamed throughout all commitments.
Review of Implementation
So how are we faring in implementation? Over the
past two decades we have seen progress on many fronts and in ICTs making a
difference to women. Yet outside the periphery, a pressing need remains for
women to co-develop and harness these advances to positively impact their rights
and lives, while preventing further entrenchment of inequality, discrimination,
exploitation and abuse. ICTs have not yet been a game-changer for women but they
should and must be. We are not seeing fast enough progress, nor transformative
Let us make the women vendors in Papua New Guinea who use
e-payments to bypass corrupt middlemen, the women in Jordan forging new and
high-paying careers in ICT, the women in Brazilian favelas using apps to map
unsafe spaces, women in Africa using mobile phones to network for peace,
organizations that are building a cadre of women community bloggers or fighting
for women’s rights online, and visionary leaders in the ICT sector the rules not
Women are innovators, holders of knowledge, builders of
solutions. Let us recognize and support them and ensure their rights online and
offline are enjoyed and are mutually beneficial. Let us also challenge and
eradicate harmful practices that have emerged online, push back against the
threats that ICTs also hold and for an ethical information society.
this we have to be much more deliberate and accelerate action. We count on all
stakeholders to invest, scale, and undertake necessary interventions and special
measures around women’s access, digital literacy and capacities, content
development, active leadership and digital empowerment.
We have to
tackle the entire ecosystem. As such, we call on you to embrace a lens through
which the differentiated ways in which women and men experience, engage with and
benefit from ICTs are consistently considered and addressed including the
interplay of issues and norms online and off as well as power dynamics and
structures that perpetuate many forms of inequalities, including around gender.
We also call on the gender community to play a greater role within the
conversations around Internet governance.
When WSIS took
place 10 years ago, there was no single consolidated UN entity fully dedicated
to promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment. With the creation of UN
Women, Member States made clear that gender equality and women’s empowerment
must be achieved as an important driver of sustainable development in all its
dimensions, peace and security, and human rights.
UN Women’s functions
cover intergovernmental normative support, UN coordination and accountability,
multi-stakeholder partnerships, knowledge hub, and programmatic activities in
over 90 countries.
UN Women is committed to working to better integrate
issues around ICTs and the information society within our work and the work of
the broader gender community. This is a clear priority of the Executive Director
of UN Women. We look forward to the WSIS process responding forcefully to better
integrate gender with the creation of a specific focus area on women’s
empowerment, as well as continuing to mainstream this throughout all the work of
partners. We are also working with UNGIS and Action Line leads to this end.
We are pleased that in the WSIS+10 forward-looking
vision, priorities and in the section on Action Lines and their implementation,
we are seeing continued support for gender equality and women’s empowerment in
the context of the information society and a specific role for UN Women. I
appreciate the broad support we have received through this process and would
like to extend a special thanks for Dr. Toure for his leadership around these
UN Women and constituencies of women’s organizations across the
world had higher ambitions for this text. We had hoped for an action line on
gender. Although this was not possible this time, we hope that it will be in the
future. We also need greater synergies with other processes. It is essential to
align what we are doing here with the post-2015 and Sustainable Development
We see important linkages between WSIS action lines and
the goal on achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment currently in the
draft of the Open Working on SDGs. For example, e-employment is linked to the
SDG target on women’s full and productive employment and decent work; the action
line on e-learning links to the target on equal access to quality education; the
action line on information and communication infrastructure links to the target
on non-discriminatory access to essential services and infrastructure, including
ICT; and so on.
In fact, I am pleased to report that the gender equality
focus area is one of those with the clearest references to ICT, including in the
section on Means of Implementation. This positions us well to take forward the
WSIS+10 Vision in the context of sustainable development more broadly.
We also need to take full opportunity of the 20-year anniversary of the Beijing
Declaration and Platform for Action to reinvigorate and expand commitments for
gender equality and women’s empowerment.
As we make and
implement the vision for women’s empowerment under the WSIS forward looking
recommendations, renew and redouble our commitments around ICTs under
Beijing+20, as well as influence the post-2015 agenda on the nexus of ICTs and
gender, I call on all of us to take the necessary and bold steps so that this
confluence of processes becomes a turning point for greater action to create an
information and knowledge society for all.
We are talking about nothing
less than ensuring the information society serves half the world’s population,
half the world’s needs and takes advantage of half the world’s talent. There is
no time to lose.