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).
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 for 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.