On June 6th in Brussels, UNESCO facilitated a high level panel convened by the European Commissions’ DG Connect on Women and Girls in Digitalization at the European Development Days. Organized by the European Commission around the theme “"Women and Girls at the Forefront of Sustainable Development" and the #SheisWe campaign, the event brings the development community together each year to share ideas and experiences in ways that inspire new partnerships and innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges.
The panel’s objective was to underline the potential of ICTs to create employment opportunities for young people and empower women, highlight the risks and underline possible solutions to address the gender digital divide, and provide a platform to share lessons learned from initiatives promoting gender equality within the digital sector around the globe. The panel brought together industry representatives, policymakers, and stakeholders from across the globe to address those issues, share their experiences and lessons learned, and provide input to ensure gender equality in the ICT Sector in general.
Promoting Gender Equality in the ICT-related areas is at the heart of UNESCO’s mandate in support of building inclusive knowledge societies. Through UNESCO’s work as facilitator of the WSIS Process, as well as the Organization’s active role as co-chair of the Working Group on the Gender Digital Divide in the framework of the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development, UNESCO recognizes ICTs as an enabler of women’s empowerment. The Organization also works through its policy support and programmes to increase access to and use of information and communication technologies by young women and girls.
Opening the high-level panel, the UNESCO representative Ms Sasha Rubel from the Knowledge Societies Division highlighted UNESCO’s work in promoting women and girls in the ICT Sector, notably through its YouthMobile Initiative that aims to ensure that women and girls are equipped with the necessary digital skills for the changing world of work. Ms. Rubel further underlined UNESCO’s work, with support from the Information for All Programme, in gender mainstreaming in ICT policies and programmes in Francophone Africa. Furthermore, Ms. Rubel highlighted UNESCO’s ongoing efforts to develop policy guidelines and open source curricula in support of digital literacy and access to information for women and girls around the world.
Mr. Alexander De Croo, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Development Cooperation, Digital Agenda, Telecom & Postal Services of Belgium, highlighted the Digital for Development platform established by Belgium as well as the Digital Belgium Skills Fund launched in May 2017 as concrete examples of digital strategies in action benefitting marginalized and vulnerable communities. Underlining that innovation and entrepreneurial models coming from other regions of the world, including Africa, need to be considered as inspirations for European countries, De Croo stressed the need to ensure innovation and entrepreneurship are at the heart of both governance and education systems.
As Chair of the panel, Lora Borissova, Head of Cabinet responsible for Digital Economy and Society of the European Commission, representing the commissioner Mariya Gabriel, underlined the ongoing commitment of the European Commission to work with partners, including UNESCO, in implementing the Digital 4 Development Strategy and Women in Digital Strategy, with a focus on empowering young women and girls to pursue careers in STEM and acquire the necessary ICT digital literacy skills.
The panel also included Ms Carin JÄMTIN, Director-General of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), Mrs Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Chief of Strategic Planning at the ITU, Ms Anusha Rahman Khan, former Federal Minister of Information Technology and Telecommunication of Pakistan and a member of the UN Broadband Commission, Mr Joakim Reiter, Director of the Vodafone Group’s External Affairs, and Ms Latifa Salissou Hassane and Ms. Shwetal Shah, who shared their experiences promoting women and girls in ICTs, underscoring the importance of combatting stereotypes and the need for young women role models in the ICT Sector.
The high-level panel, moderated by UNESCO, resulted in concrete recommendations to move the digital agenda forward, notably to: 1) encourage digital literacy skills and confidence among young women; 2) ensure media and information literacy in education systems; 3) encourage young women and girls to be producers of relevant local content and applications in local languages, and; 4) ensure the integration of gender perspectives in strategies, policies, plans, and budgets related to ICT use and digitalization.