Helen Clark: Opening Remarks at the Final Meeting and Launch of Final Report of the Broadband Commission Working Group on Gender

Sep 24, 2015

In the next few days, the UN General Assembly will adopt the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which will chart an ambitious new development agenda for the next fifteen years. A stand-alone goal (SDG 5) is dedicated to achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls. This is important in its own right, and will be crucial to progress across the SDGs.

SDG 5 has a target dedicated to eliminating all forms of violence against all women and girls. The final report of our Gender Working Group on the subject of cyber-violence shows that determined efforts to tackle it will be needed to achieve that target by 2030.

When the MDGs were launched at the turn of the millennium, only 6.5 per cent of the global population had access to the Internet, only ten per cent had a mobile phone, and most users were from the developed world. As we mark the end of the MDG era, 43 per cent of the world is now online, and mobile phone penetration stands at 97 per cent. Two billion of the 3.2 billion people projected to be online by the end of 2015 will be from developing countries.

The Broadband Commission’s reports have shown how ICTs have brought direct and indirect benefits to people around the world, including for women and girls. Our Gender Working Group’s own Report in 2013, Doubling Opportunities, highlighted the benefits of digital inclusion for women and girls, and called for closing digital gender gaps to ensure that no one is left behind.

There are four targets specific to ICTs in the SDGs, one of which calls for enhancing the use of ICTs to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.

It is, however, important to be aware that ICTs and the Internet can also pose risks to the well-being and advancement of women and girls. There is evidence from experts that “the scope, volume, and content of the material on the Internet promoting or enacting trafficking in human beings for the purpose of sexual exploitation … are unprecedented.” The gender dimension of this challenge is clear: seventy per cent of people trafficked around the world are women and girls, and 97 per cent of women trafficked are sexually exploited.

The Internet is also noted by experts to have “become the primary means used by international child pornography rings to disseminate their material worldwide.”

Furthermore, “cyber-stalking” is now recognized as an extension of traditional stalking. Some research suggests that between eight and twelve per cent of women will experience such stalking at some point in their lives, and that proportion is expected to rise with the rapid spread and reach of electronic communications.

The 2014 Global Status Report on Violence Prevention, launched recently by UNDP with the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNODC,documents a range of indirect effects of violence on women, from inability to work, to loss of wages, lack of participation in social and political activities and limited ability to care for themselves and their children. Unfortunately, a large number of female Internet users live in countries where harassment and abuse of women online is very unlikely to be punished.

So what do we do?

The Working Group’s final Report urges investments in prevention through sensitizing the public, implementing technical safeguards, and deterring potential offenders through legal and regulatory sanctions.

All such measures will be necessary to address the online-offline continuum of violence against women, from addressing the root causes of attitudes which foster violence towards women to improving the governance of cyberspace and ensuring full investigation and prosecution of online and offline perpetrators.

When addressing gender-based violence, it is important that women are engaged in finding the solutions and are not just passive beneficiaries of efforts launched by others. The final report of our Working Group on Gender calls for more women to be engaged in the technology field. But we must look for broader opportunities for women to engage across multiple sectors, especially in decision-making.

Unfortunately, “glass ceilings” still limit women from reaching leadership roles in many organizations, while “glass walls” keep women largely confined to feminized areas of government, such as social services, education, or health. That means that women all too rarely are decision makers in areas like technology and the governance of cyberspace.

We therefore need to see Goal 5 on gender equality in the SDG agenda in close relationship with Goal 16 on building peaceful and inclusive societies which calls for a reduction in the levels of violence and stresses the need for inclusive governance and access to justice for all.

Looking ahead

I was delighted that earlier this year, in Beijing, a call was made not only to renew the commitments made there in 1995, but also to review and strengthen them to account for emerging ICT-related opportunities and risks to women and girls.

The Working Group’s final report calls attention to these risks, and paves the way for new and innovative solutions, including on the strategic use of ICTs, such as the use of mobile apps to monitor and report gender-based violence.

Over the past three years, I am proud that this Working Group has raised awareness of the importance of digital inclusion of women and girls. We have done much to advance the recommendations we made in our very first Report, including in putting gender equality in access to broadband by 2020 as the fifth goal of the Broadband Commission itself.

Each member of the working group has made – and continues to make – important contributions to this work. An example from UNDP: we helped Bangladesh develop the first ever comprehensive knowledge space on the government’s information portal dedicated to violence against women. In various countries, we are using social media to engage men and boys, and to sensitize communities on gender-based violence.

It is appropriate that we close this working group with the bold declaration of this final report: that the victimization of women and girls is unacceptable, whether committed on the streets or online. Preventing and addressing gender-based violence in all its forms – including its perpetration online – is crucial for building a future of justice, hope, and dignity for women and girls everywhere. 

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