ICT as a powerful means to advance women’s rights, empowerment and gender equality

Remarks of Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Women Executive Director, at the UN Broadband Commission Working Group on Gender, New York, 20 September 2013.


[Check against delivery]

Madame Chair Helen Clark,
Distinguished Colleagues,

It is my pleasure to be in this meeting and to speak about a subject whose importance and significance for women I rank very high.

It is also an area of my special interest having spent the best part of my last four years looking at Technology-Enabled Learning.

I was to find that it is a matter of high priority also to UN Women and I am committed to an even stronger collaboration with the Broadband Commission Gender Working Group.  

Since the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995, much attention has been paid to ICT and it is part of the Beijing Platform for Action. This makes it central to our work and particularly so, as we gear up for the Beijing +20 review, this will be one area I would like my team to shine a light on, for the purpose of doing more and better for women and girls.

Let me make some key observations on matters highlighted by the report, my own observations and highlight some of what UN Women does.

  • I want to applaud the Broadband Commission for the adoption of the target to achieve gender equality in access to high- quality, high-speed Internet by 2020. 
  • I congratulate the International Telecommunication Union on the adoption in June of its gender mainstreaming policy. That makes ITU yet another partner for us as UN Women, with whom and through whom to deliver as one.
  • I agree with the report on the need to close the Internet gender gaps. As in the delivery of other services, it is important to move away from gender-blind service-delivery since the invisible obstacles become barriers to benefits for women.
  • I welcome the important argument which is well made, that ICT use by women boosts productivity of countries and better meets women’s economic and social needs.

I want to further add that:

  • Self-generated income from ICT businesses can give women greater power to close the gender wage gap, as it is a means of production that allows for some control and determination on the price that women can sell their labour.
  • It has a critical role to play in making education accessible to women and girls with possible large impact on improved quality but only if other variables are in place as ICT cannot make up for all other shortcomings of development. My contention would be that if and when ICT becomes part of anti-poverty strategies of countries, it can go much further to enable women and whole societies to derive benefits  from Technology Enabled education, health or commerce.
  • In the case of education for example, where there is extreme poverty, the cost of basic gadgets and broadband make the concept of ‘learning any-where any-time’ possible but not attainable, and largely applicable in resource abundant communities.
  • For these and more reasons, regulators can be encouraged to use the instruments at hand to bring down the prohibitive cost of broadband in many developing countries.

It makes the work of this commission an important contribution to inclusive development and women’s empowerment.

As UN Women we are taking advantage of ICT in our work and meeting some of the objectives of the commission, though not at a desirable scale yet.

To end violence against women, for instance, we are providing mobile phone apps to report safety risks and to get access to services for survivors of gender-based violence.

To advance women’s leadership and participation, we have an online platform for women across the globe called IKnow Politics, where women can connect and get information on how to run for office and get elected. 

To enhance women’s economic empowerment, we are launching with Canada our new global Knowledge Gateway to empower women with knowledge, resources, networking and training.

We are also launching an information system with Airtel that will provide women farmers with real time information on markets, policy environment and connect them to each other for learning and support.

This is work we do through partnerships with governments, civil society, the private sector and the United Nations system.

We hope to, and can do, much more.

The recommendations in your working group’s report are an excellent starting point.

Our view is, we must not settle for “smart” societies, but also aspire for societies that are also “wise,” guided by rights and values, where gender equality is realized and where technology works for the poor and for women and girls.

For us, technology can be a game-changer for women and girls. It can make the 21st century a women’s and girls’ century.

The next two Commissions on the Status of Women will review Beijing and the MDGs and put forward recommendations for post-2015. We, as your partner, will do everything to ensure that ICT is given prominence as a powerful means to advance women’s rights, empowerment and gender equality.

My Deputy, Ms. Lakshmi Puri, will stay on to continue our discussion when I depart ahead of finishing the session.

I thank you.