WSIS 2017 – Moderated high-level policy session 13

14 Jun 2017 11:00h - 12:00h

Event report

[Read more session reports from WSIS Forum 2017]

High-Level Track Facilitator, Ms Shuchita Thapar (Project Manager Cybersecurity Team, National Law University, Delhi), opened the session and invited panellists to reflect on different aspects of gender mainstreaming strategies and challenges.

Ms Doreen Bogdan-Martin (Chief of Strategic Planning and Membership Department, International Telecommunications Union (ITU)) commented on the progress that has been made since 2015 on WSIS, when the Forum had many sessions with only male panellists. In contrast, there are no all-male panels at WSIS 2017, and women’s presence as participants, panellists, and facilitators has increased. Global progress in terms of gender equality, however, looks less optimistic. Bogdan-Martin noted that the gender digital gap is growing, and that statistics show that 12% of women around the world are more likely to be offline than men. That gap is even wider for Africa, Asia-Pacific, and Arab states and is the widest when it comes to least developed countries (LDCs). Despite the discouraging figures, she noted that gender mainstreaming is now on the agenda of many international organisations. Regarding ITU, it is working on many fronts including the Girls in ICT Day initiative, gender disaggregated ICT statistics, gender groups in the ITU’s Standardization and Radiocommunication sectors, and the recently launched Equals partnership.

Ms Verona Collantes (Deputy Chief, Secretariat, UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment) observed that gender equality and women’s empowerment is a human right. It is also indispensable to achieving the sustainable development goals (SDGs). Collantes mentioned that 90% of the jobs in the future will require ICT skills and knowledge, therefore it is of critical importance to train girls and women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). The speaker then commented on the work of the High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment and its recommendations, specifically on building assets and digital technology.  In this area, the panel recommended that countries assess how women are progressing along the digital inclusion continuum, which includes access to and use of ICTs, and a context where women are not only users but also operators, policymakers, and implementers.

Ms Tish Berard (President-elect, International Trademark Association (INTA)) shared the experience of INTA in gender mainstreaming and highlighted that half of INTA’s officers are female and women hold several leadership roles in the organisation. Berard explained the importance of branding and brand-awareness for female entrepreneurs. She observed that branding is a key component of a sustainable business and that oftentimes small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and new entrepreneurs are so busy developing their products and determining how to get those products to the market, that they forget about branding and its importance for business development and growth. In that sense, INTA could partner with WSIS and other organisations to help women understand and achieve their own personal brands and the brands for their products, so they can progress forward and do more in their companies. 

Mr Shahid Akbar (Chief Executive Officer, Bangladesh Institute of ICT in Development) talked about Bangladesh’s efforts to institutionalise the gender mainstreaming agenda. Some of the government’s actions include gender focal points, gender budgeting, and gender sensitisation activities. In addition, there are successful initiatives in girls’ and women’s education and job training. Akbar also emphasised the need to get both women and men on board with gender mainstreaming strategies, and to educate policymakers and decision-makers in the importance of gender equality. To finalise, he added that governments should also start auditing gender-related activities and should increase resources allocated to this important goal.

Dr Madeleine Scherb (President, Health and Environment Program (HEP)) talked about the historical changes in the role of women in society. She reminded the audience that most of the women in the past were illiterate, had restricted autonomy, and lacked legal recognition. The invention of printing, and later, the telegraph and other technological devices help spread knowledge and change women’s place in our political, economic, and social spheres. To finalise, Scherb highlighted the importance of the Internet in further disseminating ideas and empowering women to seek educational and economic opportunities, and connect with people around the world.

Ms Salma Abbasi (Chairperson and CEO, eWorldwide Group) started by pointing out many challenges affecting gender mainstreaming strategies. First, she noted that a policy is only as good as its implementation. The biggest challenge we face today is that women are not included in the policymaking or consultation processes. Secondly, gender mainstreaming is usually not a priority for governments that struggle with a broad range of pressing and conflicting issues. Finally, the notion of gender mainstreaming is often limited and fails to include women with disabilities or elderly women. It has to be expanded. For Abbasi, we need more role models that can illustrate the enormous impact of bringing ICTs to a girl, to a woman, or to a woman-led business. 

Dr Beate Degen (Ernst & Young, Germany) shared her personal experience as one of the only female students in the STEM field 25 years ago, and lamented that the situation is currently not that different. Forecasts are also discouraging. In 2014, the World Economic Forum (WEF) assessed that it could take another 80 years to achieve gender equality, and in the 2015 Forum the number changed to 117 years. The situation appears to be getting worse. Degen mentioned the opportunities that will arise with the digitisation of the economy, and the importance of changing the mindsets of families and young girls so they can embrace STEM careers. She called for an approach that engages the public sector, the private sector, governments, and entrepreneurs to tackle barriers to the empowerment of women.

Ms Flavia Alves (Global Public Policy Manager, Facebook) spoke about Facebook’s initiatives on gender equality that are structured around two areas: women’s safety and women’s economic empowerment. On the first front, Facebook is developing and implementing security measures to combat revenge porn and cyber bullying and harassment. On the second front, Facebook has created the She means business programme that offers women training and resources on how to use the Internet to boost their products, increase their customer base, and evolve their business online. The programme is currently running in more than 15 countries and is benefitting more than 8000 entrepreneurs.


by Tamar Colodenco