ITU and UNESCO Chair in ICT4D session at WSIS Forum 2018: International decision-making in ICT – where are the women?

The ITU is strongly committed to achieving gender equality across its organisational structures, and has been one of the driving forces for achieving gender equality in and through ICTs across the world, not least through its involvement in creating the EQUALS initiative.

One of the key international gatherings convened by the ITU has been the series of World Radiocommunication Conferences held periodically to reach international agreements on Radio Regulations, with new and revised Resolutions and Recommendations.  Traditionally, these have been very male dominated, and the ITU has therefore taken steps to encourage greater involvement of women at all levels in its decision-making processes.  One aspect of this has been the creation of the Network of Women for WRC-19 (NOW4WRC19), led by Dr. Hanane Naciri, which aims to encourage increased participation of women in the conference being held in 2019.  Its main objectives are to have a better gender balance among delegates, to prepare women for key roles in WRC-19, and to grow the women’s community capacity and contribution.

As part of this process, the ITU and the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D convened Session 113 at the WSIS Forum 2018.  This began with a lively panel discussion, opened by Dr Hanane Naciri (Radiocommunication and Software Engineer, Radiocommunication Bureau, ITU), with Sahiba Hasanova (Vice-Chairman, ITU-R Study Group 4 / Leading Adviser, Ministry of Transport, Communications and High Technologies, the Republic of Azerbaijan), Caitlin Kraft-Buchman (CEO/Founder Women@theTable, Geneva, Switzerland) and Brigitte Mantilleri (Director of the Equal opportunities office of the University of Geneva).  The speakers shared some of their experiences of leadership in the field of ICT, commented on the challenges facing women who wish to participate in such events, and suggesting what needs to be done to involve more women at all levels in such processes (summary).

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Building on these inspirational introductions, participants then shared their experiences, insights and suggestions for what still needs to be done to ensure that women contribute fully and appropriately to international ICT decision making, and especially to WRC-19.  Twelve themes were identified, and these were captured in a mind map which is available on the ITU and UNESCO Chair in ICT4D sites:

  • Top leadership and champions: it is essential that top leadership supports the increased participation of women, and that champions are identified who can promote such participation;
  • Ensuring that women are in powerful positions: women need to be supported throughout their lives, and particularly encouraged to take leadership roles;
  • Building and promoting networks: it is essential that we work together in intergenerational networks that can support and advise women participating in such decision-making activities;
  • Involving men: we must have male feminists as well as female ones who are willing to help change attitudes and cultures of oppression;
  • Training: more effective training programmes are necessary, particularly ones that help men to understand the relevant issues;
  • Organisational structures: addressing elements of organizational culture is key, and it is important to equip women to survive and flourish in the environments where they work;
  • Awareness and communication: the need to provide much more information about how women can contribute to such decision-making gatherings, and to confront people who have negative behaviours;
  • Changing norms: the need to address and revisit many underlying assumptions;
  • Incentivisation: the need to provide incentives to organisations and individual women to participate in such events;
  • The role of recruitment: recruitment agents can play a key role in ensuring balanced interview panels and processes, and in supporting a charter code of practice on gender;
  • Remember that inclusion is not the same as diversity: diversity is not enough and we need to be inclusive to ensure that women feel comfortable in whatever environment they find themselves; and finally
  • Recognising it may not happen overnight: given how slow change has been so far, we need to recognize it may not happen swiftly, but we must develop the momentum so that it will happen as quickly as possible.

Participants were committed to supporting EQUALS and working with the ITU to ensure that there is much greater involvement of women at all levels in WRC-19.

The UNESCO Chair in ICT4D at EQUALS Research Group meeting in Macau

EQUALS is a global initiative committed to achieving gender equality in the digital age.  5Its founding partners are the ITU, UN Women, UNU Computing and Society (UNU-CS) institute, the International Trade Centre, and the GSMA, and Royal Holloway, University of London, is one of the first group of 25 partners for the initiative.  We were delighted that the Principal of Royal Holloway, Professor Paul Layzell, was able to attend the first Principal’s meeting in New York during the UNGA in September 2017 (image to the right).  There are three Coalitions within EQUALS, for Skills (led by GIZ and UNESCO), Access (led by the GSMA) and Leadership (led by the ITC), and these are supported by a Research Group, led by the UNU-CS.  The UNESCO Chair in ICT4D has been very active across all areas of EQUALS’ work since its original conception during the discussions held at the WSIS Forum in May 2016, and has been particularly involved in contributing to the work of the Skills Coalition.

The first face-to-face physical (rather than virtual) meeting of the Research Group was convened by the UNU-CS in Macau from 5th-6th December (official press release), and it was great that the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D could be represented by both Liz Quaglia and Tim Unwin at this meeting.  This week’s gathering brought together researchers and policymakers from 21 organizations around the world. It established the group’s research agenda, drafted its work plan for 2018, and finalized the content and schedule of its inaugural report due to be published in mid-2018.  In particular, it provided a good opportunity for researchers to help shape the Coalitions’ thinking around gender and equality in the three areas of skills, access and leadership, and also to identify ways through which they could contribute new research to enable the coalitions to be evidence-led in their activities.

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Huge thanks are due to Araba Sey, who convened the meeting with amazing enthusiasm, insight and professionalism, and all of the other staff at UNU-CS who contributed so much to the meeting.  It was a great occasion when some of the world’s leading researchers in gender and ICTs could meet together, not only to discuss EQUALS, but also to explore other areas of related research, and to build the trust and openness necessary to increase gender equality both in the field of ICTs, and also through the ways that ICTs influence every aspect of people’s lives.

Royal Holloway, University of London – Principal attends first partner meeting of EQUALS in New York

It was great to see Royal Holloway, University of London, represented by the Principal, Professor Paul Layzell, at the first principals meeting of EQUALS, the partnership for gender equality in the digital age, held on 16th September, just before the UN General Assembly starting today in New York.

EQUALS is a very important initiative, founded by the ITU, UN-Women, the ITC, the UNU-CS and the GSMA, to reverse the trend of increasing gender digital inequality.  The UNESCO Chair in ICT4D has been delighted to be working closely with the founding partners ever since the origins of EQUALS, and our membership provides an opportunity for everyone at Royal Holloway, University of London to play a part in helping to make a difference in this crucial area.

Royal Holloway, University of London, has played a leading role in the higher education of women, especially in STEM subjects.  Bedford College, University of London, which merged with Royal Holloway College in the 1980s to form Royal Holloway and Bedford New College, now abbreviated to Royal Holloway, University of London, was thus founded in 1849 as the first higher education college in the UK specifically for women.  Staff from many of its leading departments contribute to the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D; 12 of our 28 Members and Affiliated Members are women.

EQUALS has three broad coalitions, on Skills, Access and Leadership, and Royal Holloway is an active member of the Skills coalition.  The College is also participating in the EQUALS Research Group being led by the UNU Computing and Society Institute (UNU-CS).  It is great to see the College featuring in this high profile UN initiative, as one of only two universities among the first 24 Partners and 5 Founding Partners.

I hope that the pictures below of the principals meeting, and Professor Paul Layzell’s interview, capture something of the atmosphere.