Welcome and Introduction by Mr. José Antonio Ocampo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs: Enhancing Women’s Global Leadership through Information Technology (IT)
New York, 8 March 2006

Welcome to this special event on “Enhancing Women’s Global Leadership through Information Technology (IT),” organized by the private sector organization AIT Global, in partnership with the United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW) and the Office for Economic and Social Council Support and Coordination (OESC), both part of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA). We thank AIT and its president, Mr. Mike Lackey, for bringing its membership to the UN for this multi-stakeholder exchange of knowledge and views on this crucial area of endeavor.

This one-and-a-half-day event takes place during the 50th session of the Commission on the Status of Women. It will contribute to the Commission’s consideration of two priority themes: creating an enabling environment for the enhanced participation of women in development; and achieving equal participation of women and men in decision-making at all levels.

The work of the Commission and our meeting programme here both emphasize the shared role that the public sector, the business community and civil society have to play in promoting gender equality and empowering women. Our discussion will center on information and communication technologies (ICT) and their potential as powerful tools for stimulating economic, social and cultural development.

In the field of “ICT-for-development”, much activity has focused on the fundamental issue of access. Many factors—including poverty, illiteracy and language barriers—prevent the majority of the world’s people from using the Internet, one of the most powerful ICT tools. Within this “digital divide”, there is also a gender divide: women are in the minority of Internet users in almost all countries, developed and developing.

In many developing countries, the constraints to access are particularly severe for women. Women are less likely to own communication assets, such as radios, mobile phones and computers. Women’s access and their possibilities to participate on equal terms can be further restricted by social factors such as literacy and educational levels, mobility and time availability, as well as related social roles and expectations.

ICT may actually exacerbate existing inequalities between women and men or create new forms of inequality, unless the gender-divide is specifically addressed. To do so, we must ensure that women have equal access to ICT-related education and training, to entrepreneurship opportunities and to involvement as both consumers and producers of ICT. A publication of our Division for the Advancement of Women, Women 2000 and Beyond: Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women through ICT, noted last year the importance of increasing access to sex-disaggregated data; the need to incorporate gender perspectives into ICT policies and regulatory frameworks, e-strategies at national level, and programmes on ICT for development; and the value of establishing new partnerships, such as with the private sector and academic institutions, to help bridge the gender digital divide.

Investment in “content” development at the local level, based on local information needs, is also key to increasing women’s use of and benefit from ICT. As women gain access, it is vital that the information they find be relevant to their lives and needs.

The potential gains from ICT for women—and thus for societies—are enormous and range from the creation of new types of economic activity and employment opportunities to improvements in health-care delivery and other services, and enhancement of networking, participation and advocacy.

The United Nations has been working intensively since the Millennium Summit in 2000 to help put ICT in the service of development for all. Through the first phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), held in Geneva in 2003, the United Nations and its partners sought to solidify political will on this front and to establish the foundations for a truly global Information Society for all. The Summit’s second phase, held in Tunis last year, focused on formulating a plan of action. The Summit’s outcome documents expressly affirm the full participation of women in the Information Society and a global commitment to women’s empowerment and to a gender equality perspective in our efforts to overcome the digital divide.

I want to assure you of my Department’s determination to help governments keep that commitment, not only through our support for the WSIS implementation process, but also across the board—whether through our substantive support to intergovernmental processes, our research and analytical work, or our assistance in implementation and capacity building at the country level. In this effort, we look forward to continued and stepped-up cooperation and collaboration with our many partners, inside and outside the UN system.

One vehicle for this has been the UN ICT Task Force, a multi-stakeholder body created by the UN in which all members had equal rights and responsibilities. The Task Force addressed gender issues in the context of considering themes such as Internet governance, promoting an enabling environment for ICT-for-development, and harnessing the potential of ICT for education.

With the end of the Task Force’s mandate, we now have a new opportunity to foster multi-stakeholder action on gender equality and ICT through the proposed United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and development. This Alliance would meet the demand for an inclusive global forum and platform for cross-sectoral policy dialogue—conducted in an open, transparent and multi-stakeholder manner—on the use of ICT for enhancing the achievement of internationally agreed development goals. As such, the Alliance will thrive only with the active engagement of a wide range of stakeholders, with the private sector and civil society playing a major role.

I hope that the Alliance would dedicate one its sessions to considering—as we will over the next day and a half—the differential impact of ICT on men and women and, especially, ways to harness the full potential of ICT to serve advancement and empowerment of women.

For all of these reasons, and on this International Women’s Day, I look forward to the outcome of our discussion.

I would now like to give the floor to the President of the Economic and Social Council, Ambassador Ali Hachani of Tunisia. Ambassador Hachani played a critical role in the success of the World Summit on the Information Society, especially of its Tunis phase. This makes him a major asset to ECOSOC in its new role in the follow-up to WSIS and, indeed, to the crucial role that ECOSOC plays in advancing the outcomes of all the major UN conferences and summits."