Walking the path to gender parity in digital policy-making

The recent World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC) in Kigali, Rwanda, underlined the growing commitment to ensure gender equality in digital development along with pushing for meaningful global connectivity.

On 12 June, conference delegates and local residents alike joined Walk2Connect, a seven-kilometre walkathon organized by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology and Innovation, the Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority, and the City of Kigali. Held as part of Kigali’s Car Free Day, the walkathon aimed to raise awareness about bridging the gender digital divide and promote equal participation of women in the global digital agenda.

“There really aren’t enough women in the digital world. We are trying to encourage them more and more to get interested in it,” said Sandrine Takeu, a delegate from Cameroon at WTDC. “Today’s world is progressive, but if women are left behind, we will never reach the parity we want between men and women,” she added.

ITU, as the United Nations specialized agency for information and communication technologies (ICTs), has increasingly applied a gender perspective and wider sustainable development awareness throughout its work. Beyond ITU’s organizational culture, ensuring gender balance at key global conferences matters for the long-term trajectory of global digital development.

“The three Network of Women events held during WTDC – the Network of Women luncheon hosted by Qualcomm, the Network of Women Breakfast supported by Australia, and of course, our Network of Women Walk2Connect Walkathon – have helped strengthen the connection between female delegates, enabling us to share our experiences, solidarity, and commitment to gender empowerment in the digital sector,” said Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director, Telecommunication Development Bureau, ITU.

The Network of Women (NoW) in ITU’s Development Sector (ITU-D) was formed last year to boost the number of female delegates ready to take on leadership roles, such as chairing committees and workings groups, in WTDC. To further diversify the perspectives being brought to the negotiating table, NoW in ITU-D has been established in each of ITU’s six regions.

A few steps forward

Ultimately, the registered delegates onsite in Kigali were 64 per cent male and 36 per cent female – a clear an improvement over the last WTDC (Buenos Aires 2017), where they were 74 per cent male and 26 per cent female. This remains far from the gender-balanced conference that ITU is committed to achieving.

Still, Belinda Exelby, representing mobile industry association GSMA, observed real progress being made at this latest WTDC, evidenced by “so many women chairs and vice-chairs – which is fantastic to see.”

Men also joined the walkathon to support their female counterparts and promote gender mainstreaming. “In the Malaysian delegation, two out of seven representatives are women,” noted Ahmad Norhad Zahari, from Malaysia’s Ministry of Communication and Multimedia. “We hope to increase this number in the future.”

The future starts NoW

Among the hundreds of resolutions and pledges made by the global digital development community under the auspices of Partner2Connect was a commitment to “foster sustainable development and address current and future challenges, such as poverty alleviation, job creation, gender inequality and cybersecurity.”

Along with strengthening the key ITU-D Resolution 55 on gender equality, the conference endorsed the continuation of the work of the NoW Advisory Board, composed of two representatives per region.

Next stop: ITU Plenipotentiary

The upcoming Plenipotentiary Conference – or PP-22 – in Bucharest, Romania brings together ITU’s highest governing body to set the direction of ICT coordination, standardization, and development for the next for years.

This, too, aims to be a gender-responsive conference, with ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao calling for women to make up at least 35 per cent of PP-22 delegates, up from 29 per cent at PP-18.

WTDC concluded with a call for the Plenipotentiary Conference to keep building on and consolidating gender mainstreaming in ITU’s development activities. Beyond making each new conference progressively more gender-responsive, this means providing the financial and human resources to integrate a gender perspective consistently in the years ahead, delegates said.

Learn more about the Network of Women for ITU-D.

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