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Where Are The Girls? Digital Divide Worsens In New ITU Report

From broadband penetration to access to mobile phones, every other thing seems to be looking up in the most recent report by the International Telecom-munications Union, ITU, except female access to Information and Communication Technology.

ICT seminar, Abuja

ITU’s ICT Fact and Figures 2016 suggest that the global Internet user gender gap grew from 11% in 2013 to 12% in 2016. At 31%, the gap remains largest in the world’s least developed countries. It is for this reason that the ITU and UN Women joined together recently to join EQUALS: a global partnership for gender equality in the digital age. 

The partnership will put together a coalition of programmes dedicated to women and girls in technology with a vision of harnessing the power of modern information and communication technologies (ICTs) to accelerate global progress to bridge the gender digital divide. 

“It’s time to make the world more equal,” said Houlin Zhao, ITU Secretary-General. “ICTs are an essential pathway towards gender equality and gender empowerment. So today, it is my honour to announce – along with UN Women – the launch of EQUALS, the Global Partnership for Gender Equality in the Digital Age, a programme where we will collaborate with partners to generate an unstoppable global movement where women and girls are equal participants in the digital technology revolution. Big challenges like these require better data, just as global problems require global action.” 

As the UN specialized agency for ICTs, ITU estimates that there are some 250 million fewer women online than men. ITU’s ICT Fact and Figures 2016 suggest that the global Internet user gender gap grew from 11% in 2013 to 12% in 2016. At 31%, the gap remains largest in the world’s Least Developed Countries. 

UN Women is already the de facto agency on global equality for women. And ITU is the world leader in ICT data, collection and knowledge sharing. Together, both agencies are challenging their extensive network of private companies, civil society, governments and the UN family to step up and enable women and girls around the world to contribute to a digital renaissance. 

“The information society is incomplete without the inclusion, contribution and leadership of women and girls,” said Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director UN Women. “They must have access to ICTs, and we must foster their capabilities to use the technology. This is central to the realization of women’s rights at all levels and can be a real driver of accelerated progress towards the achievement of Agenda 2030.” 

ICTs are recognized worldwide as a catalyst to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals and specifically SDG5 to achieve gender equality. Increasing women’s and girl’s access, skills and leadership opportunities in ICTs has enormous potential to improve their health and empower them through access to information, education and commercial opportunities, strengthening families, communities, national economies – and ultimately global society as a whole. 

ITU and UN Women have teamed up with serial entrepreneur and Honest Dollar founder whurley (aka William Hurley) who will drive an intensive global engagement and outreach effort. “I’ve been an advocate of the widespread access to information and technologies my entire career” said whurley. 

“These technologies have the power to change lives, reinvent industries, and create entire new economies. Women and girls play a vital role and are fundamental to an ecosystem of innovation. Gender equality must be the focus of the technology industry if we are to continue to innovate in the future.” 

EQUALS will focus on addressing Sustainable Development Goal 5b: Enhance the use of enabling technology, in particular information and communications technology (ICTs), to promote the empowerment of women.


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