UN Women calls for women’s meaningful engagement with ICTs to become the rule, not the exception


Geneva — At the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS)+10 held in Geneva on 10June, UN Women Deputy Executive Director Lakshmi Puri called on stakeholders toinvest and undertake interventions and special measures to ensure women’sdigital empowerment.

During the first two WSIS events in 2003 and 2005,the international community agreed on a set of commitments that recognizedinformation and communication technologies (ICTs) as enablers for development.But the outcome documents lacked a lead facilitating agency for gender, as wellas monitoring mechanisms around cross-cutting gender issues.

With supportfrom governments, civil society and the UN system, UN Women was successful inlobbying to rectify gaps and promote more robust and accelerated action forwomen’s digital inclusion and empowerment. Following a multi-stakeholdernegotiation process which started in October 2013, the WSIS+10 Forum held inGeneva this week approved a final outcome document which has many importantreferences to gender equality. It refers to taking joint and practical measuresin implementing commitments, to redress discrimination, contribute to endingviolence and harassment, and to promote meaningful access and full integrationof women’s needs and perspectives for their full and effective participation.Moreover, UN Women was given a facilitation role in implementation andmonitoring these commitments. See the full text of the WSIS+10 Outcome Documentfor more detail.

UN Women is engaged in ICT-for-development work at theglobal and field level through programming in every region and across all ourfocus areas. Read Ms. Puri’s full speech at WSIS+10 below:

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Excellencies, distinguished delegates, colleagues and partners,ladies and gentlemen,

As we approach 2015 and chart a course for thedecades ahead, we have an incredible opportunity to aim high, tackle persistentchallenges such as inequalities, and apply innovation and creativity forbuilding sustainable, adaptive and resilient societies. ICTs and the knowledgesociety they support are critical to this picture

As a result of ICTswe are facing a future that is at once thrilling and ripe with possibilities forpositive transformation, perhaps somewhat daunting in the pace and scope ofchange, and gives pause for caution as we negotiate critical issues such asinclusiveness, safety and privacy. Collectively directing these tools andstructures of the information society to respond to all of humanity’s needs isan imperative and directing them to women’s empowerment and gender- equality isessential to this effort.

We cannot talk about inclusiveness, socialjustice in the information society, and bridging the digital divide withoutputting women at the centre of the conversation. Indeed, one of the divides weneed to bridge is the gender divide. Women’s empowerment and gender-equality andICT are mutual enablers and beneficiaries for each other. Those in turn areenablers of sustainable development in its three dimensions, economic, socialand environmental.

Existing Commitments

We have much to build on.Let me take us back not to 2005 or 2003 when the WSIS process commenced but to1995 when the Beijing Platform for Action was agreed. In defining women’s rightsand critical areas for action, we saw a visionary position and dedicated sectionon ICTs within the platform alongside issues such as education, economicempowerment and political participation. There was recognition of the importanceof ICTs even before their ubiquitous use, and the strong will to ensure thatthese technologies responded to the needs of women, promoted women’s activeparticipation in society, and emphasized their active role as leaders in thesesectors.

Many of these same issues were later captured in the WSISoutcomes. The importance of women’s access, capacity-building, content, women’sleadership in the information society, and digital empowerment of women andgirls was recognized in previous WSIS outcome documents. The Geneva Declarationof Principles calls for women to be key actors in the information society, thatthe information society should enable women’s empowerment and that a genderequality perspective should be mainstreamed throughout all commitments.

Review of Implementation

So how are we faring in implementation? Over thepast two decades we have seen progress on many fronts and in ICTs making adifference to women. Yet outside the periphery, a pressing need remains forwomen to co-develop and harness these advances to positively impact their rightsand lives, while preventing further entrenchment of inequality, discrimination,exploitation and abuse. ICTs have not yet been a game-changer for women but theyshould and must be. We are not seeing fast enough progress, nor transformativescale.

Let us make the women vendors in Papua New Guinea who usee-payments to bypass corrupt middlemen, the women in Jordan forging new andhigh-paying careers in ICT, the women in Brazilian favelas using apps to mapunsafe spaces, women in Africa using mobile phones to network for peace,organizations that are building a cadre of women community bloggers or fightingfor women’s rights online, and visionary leaders in the ICT sector the rules notthe exceptions.

Women are innovators, holders of knowledge, builders ofsolutions. Let us recognize and support them and ensure their rights online andoffline are enjoyed and are mutually beneficial. Let us also challenge anderadicate harmful practices that have emerged online, push back against thethreats that ICTs also hold and for an ethical information society.

To dothis we have to be much more deliberate and accelerate action. We count on allstakeholders to invest, scale, and undertake necessary interventions and specialmeasures around women’s access, digital literacy and capacities, contentdevelopment, active leadership and digital empowerment.

We have totackle the entire ecosystem. As such, we call on you to embrace a lens throughwhich the differentiated ways in which women and men experience, engage with andbenefit from ICTs are consistently considered and addressed including theinterplay of issues and norms online and off as well as power dynamics andstructures that perpetuate many forms of inequalities, including around gender.We also call on the gender community to play a greater role within theconversations around Internet governance.

UN Women

When WSIS tookplace 10 years ago, there was no single consolidated UN entity fully dedicatedto promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment. With the creation of UNWomen, Member States made clear that gender equality and women’s empowermentmust be achieved as an important driver of sustainable development in all itsdimensions, peace and security, and human rights.

UN Women’s functionscover intergovernmental normative support, UN coordination and accountability,multi-stakeholder partnerships, knowledge hub, and programmatic activities inover 90 countries.

UN Women is committed to working to better integrateissues around ICTs and the information society within our work and the work ofthe broader gender community. This is a clear priority of the Executive Directorof UN Women. We look forward to the WSIS process responding forcefully to betterintegrate gender with the creation of a specific focus area on women’sempowerment, as well as continuing to mainstream this throughout all the work ofpartners. We are also working with UNGIS and Action Line leads to this end.

Looking forward

We are pleased that in the WSIS+10 forward-lookingvision, priorities and in the section on Action Lines and their implementation,we are seeing continued support for gender equality and women’s empowerment inthe context of the information society and a specific role for UN Women. Iappreciate the broad support we have received through this process and wouldlike to extend a special thanks for Dr. Toure for his leadership around theseissues.

UN Women and constituencies of women’s organizations across theworld had higher ambitions for this text. We had hoped for an action line ongender. Although this was not possible this time, we hope that it will be in thefuture. We also need greater synergies with other processes. It is essential toalign what we are doing here with the post-2015 and Sustainable DevelopmentGoals process.

We see important linkages between WSIS action lines andthe goal on achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment currently in thedraft of the Open Working on SDGs. For example, e-employment is linked to theSDG target on women’s full and productive employment and decent work; the actionline on e-learning links to the target on equal access to quality education; theaction line on information and communication infrastructure links to the targeton non-discriminatory access to essential services and infrastructure, includingICT; and so on.

In fact, I am pleased to report that the gender equalityfocus area is one of those with the clearest references to ICT, including in thesection on Means of Implementation. This positions us well to take forward theWSIS+10 Vision in the context of sustainable development more broadly.

We also need to take full opportunity of the 20-year anniversary of the BeijingDeclaration and Platform for Action to reinvigorate and expand commitments forgender equality and women’s empowerment.Conclusion

As we make andimplement the vision for women’s empowerment under the WSIS forward lookingrecommendations, renew and redouble our commitments around ICTs underBeijing+20, as well as influence the post-2015 agenda on the nexus of ICTs andgender, I call on all of us to take the necessary and bold steps so that thisconfluence of processes becomes a turning point for greater action to create aninformation and knowledge society for all.

We are talking about nothingless 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 isno time to lose.

Thank you.