UN Broadband Commission sets new gender target: getting more women connected to ICTs ‘critical’ to post-2015 development agenda

17 Mar 2013

Mexico City – Commissioners gathered for the 7th meeting of the Broadband Commission for Digital Development, held today in Mexico City, have agreed on an ambitious new target designed to spur female access to the power of information and communication technologies (ICTs).

The new target mandates ‘gender equality in broadband access by the year 2020’. At present, ITU figures confirm that in the developing world, women are much less likely to have access to technology than their male counterparts. While that disparity is lower in developed countries, a measureable gap nonetheless still exists, even in the rich world.

“Women’s access to ICTs and particularly broadband must be made a key pillar of the post-2015 global development agenda,” said Dr Hamadoun I. Touré, ITU Secretary-General and co-Vice Chair of the Commission. “The mobile miracle has clearly demonstrated how powerful information and communication technologies can be in driving economic growth. However, figures from ITU and its sister agencies like UNESCO and UNDP show a clear ‘gender gap’ in access to technology. We need to redress that imbalance to ensure that all people are empowered to take control of their own destinies through ICTs.”

The new gender target was one decisive outcome of the first face-to-face meeting of the Broadband Commission Working Group on Gender, which was launched in New York in 2012 by Geena Davis, actor, advocate and ITU’s Special Envoy on Women and Girls.

Chaired by Helen Clark, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Working Group on Gender meeting attracted 69 Commissioners, special representatives and guest experts, making it the best-attended Working Group of the Commission to date.

“In a world where ICTs empower, lack of equal opportunity for women and girls to access those technologies risks thwarting development progress,” said Clark. “If we can find ways to close the gender gap in ICT access, we can not only help empower individual women and girls, and their families, but catalyze the kind of inclusive and sustainable development which benefits us all.”

The gender group meeting, which took place on Saturday 16 March, featured presentations by a number of organizations leading projects in the ‘gender and technology’ space, including Changecorp, GSMA, Intel, Telecentre.org and ITU. ITU’s digital literacy partnership with Telecentre.org has already trained over 625,000 women in basic digital skills, and is well on track to meet its target of one million women trained by 2015.

The meeting was followed by a Commission visit to ‘Aldea Digital’ (Digital Village), a three-day ‘living lab’ showcasing the broadband networks, services and applications at the heart of today’s and tomorrow’s world.

Today’s full meeting of over 30 Commission members and their representatives endorsed the target proposed by the Gender Working Group, requested that members of that group implement a project ‘dashboard’ to track gender and technology initiatives worldwide, and mandated the group to deliver its first set of outcomes to the next meeting of the Commission in September in New York.

Today’s Commission meeting also saw in-depth discussions on roadblocks to faster broadband deployment and potential solutions to impediments such as investment financing, with the focus on innovative strategies to help countries accelerate progress towards achieving the ambitious broadband access targets set by the Commission in 2011.

Highlights of the meeting included a presentation on digital accessibility by Axel Leblois, Executive Director of G3ICT, a presentation on the ‘New Africa 2014’ project by musician and Minister of Tourism of Senegal, Youssou N’dour, and work on broadband-related inputs to the B20 meeting later this year, led by Carlos Slim Domit, Chairman of the Board of Grupo Carso.

Today’s Commission meeting also launched a new Task Group on the post-2015 development agenda and the future Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to be led by Ericsson.

Sustainable development is the focus of ITU’s ‘m-Powering Development’ initiative, which was presented to Commissioners during the morning session of today’s meeting. The initiative aims to leverage the huge installed base of mobile handsets to bring new services to communities globally, particularly in the world’s poorest countries. “m-Powering Development seeks to act as a catalyst to achieve sustainability, harnessing the power of state-of-the-art ICTs and smart solutions to meet new Sustainable Development Goals,” said Brahima Sanou, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT), who is spearheading the initiative.

The Broadband Commission Working Group on Youth, led by ITU’s Dr Touré, will also lead a Global Youth Summit on technology issues, to be held in Costa Rica from 9-11 September at the invitation of President Laura Chinchilla. The Summit will welcome over 500 young people aged 18-25 from countries around the world, as well as featuring a stream for 9-17 year old Costa Rican youth.

Last September, the Broadband Commission released its first global snapshot of broadband deployment, entitled The State of Broadband 2012: Achieving Digital Inclusion for All .The second edition of the report, again featuring country-by-country rankings based on access and affordability, will be launched at the 8th meeting of the Commission in New York.