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This high-level policy session moderated by Ms Ayanna T. Samuels, aerospace engineer and international development professional, consultant at She Leads It in Jamaica, explored the issues of gender and connectivity.

Ms Doreen Bogdan-Martin, from the Strategic Planning and Membership Department of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), led by stating that the digital gender divide is one of the largest in the world today. According to Bogdan-Martin, compared to men, there are 184 million fewer women who own a mobile device. The digital gender divide in developing countries has reached 31%, while in the EU, only 17% of information and communications technology (ICT) jobs are held by women. She also noted that the ITU is working on raising awareness about this issue.

Ms Liesyl Franz, senior policy advisor at the Office of the coordinator for cyber issues in the US Department of State, stressed that this gap is still widening and that the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is leading a series of projects in the USA and worldwide, with the aim of reducing the gap. Franz welcomed project proposals within the WomenConnect challenge and noted that applying for funds is possible until 4 May. She also spoke about partnerships such as those with GSMA, AusAID and Visa, and highlighted the Gender and ICT Toolkit resources.

'Female talent remains one of the most underused business resources', noted Mr Uwe Petry, head of the Economic Affairs Division, Permanent Representation of the Federal Republic of Germany to the UN in Geneva. He said that Germany started the #eSkills4Girls initiative and has more than 600 related projects presented on the platform. He also spoke about the Africa Code Week project, and invited new stakeholders to join the EQUALS partnership.

Ms Maya Plentz Fagundes, innovation policy advisor, European Commission, focused on the issue of venture capital and other funds for women. Substantial funds are there, but are usually awarded to startups and research led by men. Plentz Fagundes proposed a new way for review panels to work, with the names and gender of those applying for funds unknown. She also mentioned the EU Parliament vote to strengthen gender equality in trade agreements.

According to Ms Hiba Qasas, chief of the Crisis Prevention, Preparedness and Response Office of UN Women, said that they included innovation and technology in their strategy to empower the 3.9 unconnected women around the world. Most of them are from poor and rural backgrounds. To achieve parity in secondary education for the poorest 20% will take 95 years, which shows the magnitude of the problem.

Ms Roberta Cocco, deputy mayor, Digital Transformation and Services to Citizens of Milan, emphasised the importance of private-public-partnerships for both local and national projects in promoting Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, previously Math, Engineering, Technology, and Science (STEM) for women. Milan aims to offer more than 100 training projects, and is organising the second edition of #STEMintheCity, as part of its digital transformation plan.

Mr Robert Pepper, head of global connectivity policy and planning at Facebook, presented the Connectivity for All findings. Pepper remarked that it is necessary for countries to have programmes in place for addressing the digital gender divide, and mentioned Namibia as an example of good practice.

A new concern was raised by Ms Madeleine Scherb, president of the Health and Environment Programme, Cameroon. Scherb spoke about the African context where violence against women and economic dependence on men are common, while literacy rates are less than 50%. ICTs have to be a tool for change, to advance learning and access to infrastructure and to provide for tangible advances.

Ms Virgina Tan, founder and CEO of She Loves Tech, focused on the impact of women as global consumers and buyers, calling them the 'single largest investment opportunity'. Tan noted that the gender lens investing is about leveraging the economic potential of women in the investment value chain, as consumers, but also agents and as users. STEM skills and the business sector are key for the empowerment of women in the technology industry.


By Jana Mišić