World Summit on the Information Society
First meeting of the Preparatory Committee
1 to 5 July 2002
Angela E.V. King
Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on Gender Issues
and Advancement of Women
Chairperson, Inter-Agency Network on Women and Gender Equality
Ladies and gentlemen.
I am honoured to have the opportunity to address this first session of the preparatory committee for the World Summit on the Information Society. I regret that I cannot be in Geneva in person, as my duties in relation to the high-level segment of the Economic and Social Council keep me in New York at this time. I have thus asked Ms. Hanne Laugesen, Head of ITUís Conferences Department, gender focal point at ITU, and Chair of the task force on gender and ICT of the Inter-agency Network on Women and Gender Equality, to present this statement on my behalf.
During this first PrepCom, critical decisions are expected to be taken about the focus of the Summit, its possible themes, and outcomes. Major attention will be devoted to devising ways, means and strategies for ensuring that the benefits of the information society are indeed available to all. In doing so, questions of a common vision, of access and applications will be pursued, the roles of Government, the private sector and civil society will be explored, and the needs of users clarified.
As these issues are debated, I urge all participants in this preparatory process for the World Summit on the Information Society to pay continuous attention to the gender dimensions of all aspects of the information society. Such attention to gender perspectives is crucial for ensuring that the policies, programmes, strategies and concrete actions that will result from this process do not perpetuate disadvantage and discrimination women face in relation to opportunities, access and participation in the information society. Instead, the Summit and its preparations should actively promote the achievement of the goal of gender equality.
Women are increasingly taking advantage of information and communications technologies, one of the driving forces behind the information society, in all spheres of life. This confirms that ICT can be a tool to promote gender equality and enhance the economic, political and social empowerment of women. At the same time, a "gender divide" within the digital divide is apparent and reflected not only in the lower numbers of women users of ICT, compared to men, but also in the persistence of gender-specific structural inequalities that constitute barriers to access. In particular, persistent inequalities between women and men at all levels of decision-making constitute serious constraints to womenís participation in shaping the role of ICT as a tool for development. Furthermore, as the information society and its tools are reshaping the world of work and commerce, educational opportunities and health systems, science and technology, governance and participation, they have the potential to perpetuate existing gender-based inequalities in access and opportunities, and to reinforce gender-based economic, social and related disadvantages for women. They may also create new forms of inequality between women and men.
It is thus essential to focus on the gender dimensions of the information society, not only to prevent adverse impact of the digital revolution on gender equality and to enhance womenís equitable access to its benefits, but also to ensure that the information society actively contributes to the empowerment of women and the promotion of gender equality. The gender perspectives of access, applications, regulatory frameworks, user needs and tools must be explicitly identified, and adequate responses developed. Any vision of a common, inclusive and participatory information society must necessarily be built on the expectations and contributions of all stakeholders.
The Inter-agency Network on Women and Gender Equality, which I have the honour of chairing, and which comprises the gender specialists of all the entities of the United Nations system of organizations, has for some time now been concerned with the gender dimensions of information and communications technologies. Under the leadership of ITU, a task force has completed an inventory of all gender-specific ICT-related activities and projects undertaken by the UN system. The Network has taken a particular interest in the preparations for the Summit, and will be holding a dialogue on the gender perspectives in relation to the issues of the Summit on Tuesday 2 July, to serve as a catalyst for ideas, suggestions and opportunities, and for overcoming challenges, of reflecting gender dimensions in the work of the Summit. A number of other activities are planned in the months ahead.
On behalf of the Network, I am also pleased to submit to the PrepCom a number of specific suggestions on the proposed themes for the Summit, and which I attach to my statement. In making these suggestions, the Network wishes to support the preparatory process in paying due regard to the gender perspectives in all aspects of your work.
I should also like to bring to your attention that the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, the central intergovernmental body responsible for monitoring the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, will consider information and communications technologies and their impact on and use as an instrument for the advancement and empowerment of women at its session in March 2003. The potential of information and communication technologies for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women are clearly recognized in the Platform for Action, adopted by the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995, and reiterated by the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly, held in June 2000. At its session in March 2003, the Commission will explore the role of ICT in-depth and develop concrete action recommendations addressed to all relevant stakeholders. The topic was chosen with the specific intent to make a contribution to the World Summit on the Information Society to ensure attention to gender dimensions, and the outcome of the Commissionís session will be submitted to this preparatory process for its consideration.
In preparation of the work of the Commission, the United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women, in collaboration with the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and the United Nations ICT Task Force Secretariat, will organize an Expert Group Meeting on the theme "Information and communication technologies and their impact on and use as an instrument for the advancement and empowerment of women" from 11 to 14 November in the Republic of Korea. The experts will consider the impact of ICT on women and their use as a tool for the empowerment of women and the promotion of gender equality, in selected areas. It will address the challenges and benefits women encounter with regard to ICT and explore ways to close the gender-based digital divide. It will develop policy recommendations and concrete actions to be taken at national, regional and international levels, and by a variety of actors, that aim at securing the full benefit of ICT in pursuit of gender equality and the advancement and empowerment of women. In particular, the experts will focus on the importance of incorporating gender perspectives into national ICT policies, the use of ICT as an instrument for womenís participation in decision-making processes, the potential of ICT as a tool to enhance womenís capabilities, in particular in the areas of health and education, and the use of ICT to ensure womenís economic empowerment.
Prior to the Expert Group Meeting and in order to have a wide range of views, an online discussion on the use of ICTs as a tool for the advancement and empowerment of women is currently under way. More than 200 participants from diverse backgrounds and locations ranging from Djibouti to Trinidad and Tobago, are sharing their experience in ICT use as a tool for womenís empowerment.
Ladies and gentlemen.
The Millennium Declaration reinforced the commitment to gender equality, and clearly recognized the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women as effective ways to combat poverty, hunger and disease and to stimulate development that is truly sustainable. The goals of the information society are the same: to harness the power of knowledge and technology to combat poverty and achieve sustainable development. Gender equality, as a development goal in itself, but also as a means for the achievement of these other goals, should thus be integral and explicit part in all your efforts.
I wish you the best in your deliberations.
Report of the Inter-agency Network on Women and Gender Equality
Session held from 26 February to 1 March 2002, at United Nations Headquarters
Gender and information and communications technologies (ICTs)
The Network endorsed the work already done by the task manager International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and entrusted ITU to continue to serve as task manager concentrating on the preparations for the WSIS over the next intersessional period. The Network approved the changes proposed by the task force on gender and ICTs in the proposed themes for WSIS (see annex below).
As a follow up to the Compendium of projects on Gender and ICTs, compiled by the task manager, it was agreed that ITU would develop the compendium into an interactive database with hyperlinks to the projects mentioned by each agency, subject to availability of funds.
The Network agreed to the following recommendations of the task force:
(a) To circulate electronically information to members on planned or upcoming ICT events organized in relation to WSIS or other relevant events;
(b) To support the active involvement of NGOs, civil society and the private sector in their work on gender and ICTs in all activities related to preparations for WSIS;
(c) To contribute to a publication on initiatives on gender and ICTs with the working title: "Aspects of the Information Society from a Gender Perspective", and using the compendium as a basis for a first draft. ITU will prepare the first draft of the publication to be reviewed by members of the Network for content and to seek appropriate funding for the publication as an input into WSIS.
(d) To prepare fact sheets on each theme of WSIS, once adopted by the Prepcom, as official documentation for input into the preparations. DPI will assist ITU in this effort.
(e) To organize panel sessions as follows:
(f) To include appropriate "side events" during the Prepcoms and the Summit with exhibition space for UN Agencies and Womenís NGOs to exhibit special projects and programmes featuring gender and ICTs. ITU will be responsible for transmitting the request for space allocation for these activities to the organizers;
(g) To establish an expert roster of specialists who could be requested to provide input into possible forum debates. The roster should include experts from UN Agencies, government, NGOs, private sector and academia;
(h) To provide comments before end March 2002 on Doc. INF -4 prepared by the Task Manager, outlining the gender dimensions, opportunities and challenges of WSIS, to be used as a fact sheet for the members of IANWGE, NGOs and other interested parties;
(i) To use electronic means of communication to encourage broad participation and to work actively with all partners in preparation for WSIS.
The Chairperson of the Network will present the above recommendations to Prepcom 1 to be held in Geneva from 1 to 5 July 2002. These recommendations will also be forwarded to the UN ICT Task Force and the High-Level Summit Organizing Committee (HLSOC). The Network will present these recommendations and brief their focal points for WSIS on the above recommendations. Additionally, the Chair of the Network asked will submit the above recommendations to the WSIS Executive Secretariat in Geneva.
The Network welcomed the initiative being taken in the Asian and Pacific region to hold a regional meeting on gender and ICTs in preparation for WSIS. In this regard, the Network recommended that:
(a) ESCAP explore the possibility of other regional commissions participating in this Asian and Pacific meeting on gender and ICTs; and
(b) Regional commissions support the integration of the gender perspective into the regional preparatory processes leading up to the WSIS.
Annex - Proposed Themes for WSIS (see shaded text)
Building the infrastructure
Opening the gates
Services and applications
(what is meant by the term "science"? It seems very restrictive. Does it include applications such as health, telemedicine and HIV/AIDS?)
The needs of users
Developing guiding principles of a framework
ICTs and Education