EQUALS is a global initiative committed to achieving gender equality in the digital age. Its 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.
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.
The UNESCO Chair in ICT4D was delighted to represent Royal Holloway, University of London at the first Focal Point meeting of the EQUALS initiative held on the side of the UN High-Level Political Forum in New York on 18th July 2017 .
EQUALS is a global initiative founded by the ITU, UN Women, the ITC, GSMA and the UNU, and delivered by a partnership of more than 20 corporate leaders, governments, non-profit organizations, communities and individuals around the world working together to bridge the digital gender divide – by bringing women to tech, and tech to women.
Royal Holloway, University of London, was created from two of the leading women’s university institutions in the UK: Bedford College founded in 1849 as the first women’s higher education institution in the country; and Royal Holloway College, founded in 1879, also as an all-women College. The wealth of expertise of Royal Holloway, University of London’s researchers and teachers, especially those involved in the UNESCO Chair of ICT4D in fields such as information security, business management, computer science and geography, is highly relevant to the EQUALS agenda of enabling gender equality in the digital age. The Chair is also one of the first 20 research organisations committed to working as part of EQUALS Research Group led by the UNU-Computing and Society Institute, and looks forward to participating actively in the group.
This first Focal Point meeting brought together the founders and partners to explore ways through which the work of EQUALS can best be delivered through three coalitions of partners:
- Access: Ensuring that women and girls have full access to digital technologies, devices and services;
- Skills: Empowering women and girls to acquire skills to become both ICT users and creators in the digital world as well as in broader STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) fields; and
- Leadership: Promoting leadership opportunities for women in the digital workforce including women’s entrepreneurship.
The work of EQUALS can be followed at:
Despite all of the global initiatives undertaken so far to use technology to empower women, digital inequality has increased. As UNESCO reported in March 2017 “the global Internet user gender gap grew from 11% in 2013 to 12% in 2016, with the estimated gap highest in Least Developed Countries (LDCs) (31%) and Africa (23%). Moreover, Internet penetration rates remain higher from men than women in all regions of the world”. EQUALS aims to use new approaches to reverse this trend, ensuring that women across the world have the access, skills and leadership to enable them to benefit from ICTs to the same extent as do men.
Members of the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D participated in the ITU’s World Radiocommunication Seminar 2016 (WRS-16) held in Geneva from 12th-16th December 2016. This provided an excellent opportunity to gain detailed updated information on both terrestrial and space services, covering technical and regulatory issues including publications, databases and tools for countries to use in managing radiocommunications.
It also enabled us to engage in the kick-off meeting of the Network of Women (NOW) for the World Radiocommunication Conference 2019 (WRC-19) held on 13th December, during which the Chairholder contributed to the panel discussion, speaking on:
- the big picture of women in the ICT/radiocommunication sector;
- how to encourage women to take ownership of the group; and
- the role that ITU should play in supporting this type of action.
As well as participating in the formal aspects of WRS-16 this was also an excellent opportunity to engage with national delegations and participants, especially from Pakistan and Kenya, as well as officials and friends in the ITU to discuss how the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D can further contribute to the ITU’s activities.
The UNESCO Chair in ICT4D featured prominently at the ITU’s Telecom World 2016 held in Bangkok from 13th-17th November, and was a partner of the ITU’s parallel Kaleidoscope academic conference held on the theme of ICTs for a Sustainable World. Three PhD alumni took an active part in the event: Salma Abbasi (Chairperson and CEO of the e Worldwide Group) who participated especially in connection with her ongoing work on ICTs for development in Nigeria; Sammia Poveda (UNU Computing and Society), who represented UNU-CS primarily in several gender-related events, especially the EQUALS working meeting and the joint session on the gender dimension in international standardization; and Caitlin Bentley (Research Associate at the Singapore Internet Research Centre at Nanyang Technological University) who represented both her present Centre and the UNESCO Chair at Kaleidoscope.
Other activities where the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D was represented included:
- The ITU Secretary General’s consultation with academia on 13th November, which considered the possible launch of a new ITU journal, an advisory board of academia to the Secretary General, and a platform to strengthen cooperation between the ITU and academia (the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D’s written contributions)
- The m-Powering Development Advisory Board meeting held on 13th November
This was a great opportunity for colleagues in the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D to engage in discussions with those in government, the private sector, civil society and international organisations and to influence policy on ways through which ICTs can contribute to development, especially for some of the world’s poorest and most marginalised. We are most grateful to colleagues at the ITU for making this possible, and for inviting our participation at ITU Telecom World 2016.
Thanks to the ITU’s official photographer for most of the above images!
I am delighted to have been asked to moderate the session on “Making money from meeting the SDGs?” at ITU Telecom World in Bangkok on Monday 14th November (4:45 PM – 6:00 PM, Jupiter 10), although I wonder a little why I have been chosen for this task given my past criticisms of the SDGs! Perhaps the “?” in the session title will give me a little freedom to explore some of the many challenges and complexities in this theme. Following in the footsteps of the Millennium Development Goals (2000), the globally agreed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) still generally focus on the idea that economic growth will eliminate poverty; indeed, they assert that poverty can truly be ended. This is a myth, and a dangerous one. For those who define poverty in a relative sense, poverty will always be with us. It can certainly be reduced, but never ended. It is therefore good to see the SDGs also focusing on social inclusion, with SDG 10 explicitly addressing inequality. We need to pay much more attention to ways through which ICTs can thus reduce inequality, rather than primarily focusing on their contribution to economic growth, which has often actually led to increasing inequality.
This session will explore the implications of such tensions specifically for the role of ICT businesses in delivering the SDGs. Key questions to be examined include:
- How can the ICT sector contribute to accelerating the achievement of the SDGs by providing ICT-enabled solutions and building feasible business models?
- Is the SDG agenda relevant for the ICT industry?
- What roles should the ICT industry, and its corporate social responsibility (CSR) departments in particular, play in working towards the SDGs?
- Can the SDG framework provide an opportunity to accelerate transformative ICT-enabled solutions around new solutions like big data or IoT?
Underlying these are difficult issues about the ethics of making money from development, and the extent to which the ICT sector is indeed sustainable. All too often, the private sector, governments and even civil society are now using the idea of “development” to build their ICT interests, rather than actually using ICTs to contribute to development understood as reducing inequalities; we increasingly have “development for ICTs” (D4ICT) rather than “ICTs for development” (ICT4D). To be sure, businesses have a fundamentally important role in contributing to economic growth, but there is still little agreement, for example, on how best to deliver connectivity to the poorest and most marginalized, so that inequality can be reduced. As my forthcoming book argues, we need to reclaim ICTs truly for development in the interests of the poorest and most marginalized.
We have a great panel with whom to explore these difficult questions. Following opening remarks by Chaesub Lee (Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Standardization Bureau, ITU), we will dive straight into addressing the above questions with the following panelists (listed in alphabetical order of first names):
- Astrid Tuminez (Senior Director, Government Affairs. Microsoft)
- Lawrence Yanovitch (President of GSMA Foundation)
- Luis Neves (Chairman Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI), and Climate Change and Sustainability Officer, Executive Vice President, at Deutsche Telekom Group)
- Mai Oldgard (Head of Sustainability, Telenor)
- Tomas Lamanauskas (Group Director Public Policy, VimpelCom).
Magic happens when people from different backgrounds are brought together to discuss challenging issues. This session will therefore not have any formal presentations, but will instead seek to engage the panelists in discussion amongst themselves and with the audience. We will generate new ideas that participants will be able to take away and apply in their everyday practices. Looking forward to seeing you on the Monday afternoon of Telecom World in Bangkok!
The UNESCO Chair in ICT4D has recently become a partner of ITU’s Kaleidoscope academic conference which will be held in Bangkok on 14-16 November 2016 on the theme of ICTs for Sustainable Development. We look forward to participating actively in this event, and contributing to the ITU’s academic research endeavours.