[Read more session reports from WSIS Forum 2017]
The session, moderated by Ms Doreen Bogdan-Martin (Chief of Strategic Planning and Membership, International Telecommunications Union (ITU)), featured discussions on the importance of bridging the gender digital divide as a way of promoting the social and economic inclusion of girls and women, and how partnership among different stakeholders is important to achieve it. Bogdan-Martin presented ITU programmes that aim to help in bridging the gender digital divide: the ‘Girls in ICT Day’ is an opportunity for training girls in ICT subjects, andso is the Gem-Tech Awards, which will take place at the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) this year, jointly organised by the ITU and UN Women, celebrating personal or organisational achievements and innovative strategies to advance gender equality in the area of ICTs.
In his speech, Mr Manu Bhardwaj (Vice President Research and Insight MasterCard) said most people without access to an economic system are women, something that is important for women's economic empowerment. He emphasised the necessity for collaboration among stakeholders such as the business sector, international agencies, and NGOs to accelerate the achievement of this goal. In his opinion, there are a lot of barriers to promote women's economic empowerment, but on the other hand, it is very clear what steps are necessary to take, and the role of each stakeholder in that. Bhardwaj affirmed that the primary areas to be focused on are tackling some social norms that limit the advance of girls at a very early age, thinking about legal protection because in some places women are not allowed to have a bank account. He concluded that the ITU has an important role as a catalyst, encouraging partnership, solution-based approaches to tackle these type of problems.
Ms Joyce Dogniez (Senior Director of Global Engagement, Internet Society) began by saying that gender issues are crucial for Internet Society, despite not being the core subject of the organisation. She presented an Indian project funded by Beyond the Net programme. This project provided a wireless connection to a community and empowered women entrepreneurship through six-week training in ICT and business. It was necessary to adapt the training to accommodate the daily routine of the women and to give basic training in English. As a result, these women became more respected in the community, more independent, and they are able to train other women. According to Dogniez, connectivity alone will not solve the gender digital divide and it is necessary to give meaning to the Internet access, such as relevant content for women in their regional languages. It is necessary to keep the Internet open and resilient in the future, but to do this is, it important to involve women and girls to shape the future of the Internet.
Ms Simone Conrad (GIZ GmbH - German Corporation for International Cooperation) began her speech by explaining that the German government has an initiative focused on putting forward the question of women and girls in the online and digital economy. The main goal is developing the required skills for digital environment and increasing employment opportunities. She affirmed the issue is very complex and the challenges are many: lack of skills; lack of gender and inclusion policies for ICT; affordability and access, because women do not feel welcome and safe in some spaces like cyber-cafes; the cultural stereotypes; and the parents understanding about the opportunities for girls to pursue a career in ICT. Conrad said that it is important to have data about the gender digital divide that can be used as evidence for policy makers to make investments with qualification. In her opinion, there are many projects around the world to bridge the gender digital divide and it is important to join efforts with them, to complement each other. Finally, Conrad talked about a platform that has been recently launched that contains the challenges, lessons learned, and other projects that do not receive the spotlight, studies, and reports, inviting all to visit and collaborate contribute with their own projects and experiences.
Ms Verona Collantes-Lebale (Deputy Chief, Secretariat of the UNSG’s High-level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment) started by saying that the gender digital divide will be considered solved when nobody needs to talk about it anymore. She presented a video that explained what the UNSG’s High-level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment is, its composition, and objectives. The panel produced a report which identified seven drivers of change to empower women: (1) promoting positive models, combating stereotypes; (2) ensuring legal protection and reforming discriminatory laws, recognising that women and men are equal; (3) recognising, reducing and distributing unpaid work and care; (4) building assets to ensure digital finances and property for women; (5) changing business culture and practice by creating opportunities for women; (6) improving the public sector practices in employment and procurement by creating opportunities for women; and (7) strengthening visibility, collective voice and representation by allowing women to be heard. Collantes-Lebale reinforced the importance of enabling women's voice in all the spheres, not only considering women as users, but also as part of the decision-making processes, as implementers, evaluators, and policy makers.
by Nathalia Sautchuk Patrício