It was so good to be in Macau and Shenzhen recently in my role as a member of the Advisory Board of the United Nations University Computing and Society Institute. During my visit, colleagues at the Institute had arranged for me to participate in Teledifusão de Macau (TDM)’s prime time Talk Show with Kelsey Wilhelm. This was a great opportunity to share some of my current thinking about the interface between digital technologies and humans, and Kelsey made sure that it was a lively and fun half hour discussion – really grateful to him for this!
The show is now available on YouTube, and begins with an overview of the current state of ICT for development, before going on to discuss
- ways through which people with disabilities can be empowered through the use of technology,
- the importance of new technologies being inclusive, because otherwise they lead to new inequalities,
- working “with” the poorest and most marginalised rather than for them,
- the role of new technologies such as AI and blockchain in serving the interests of the rich rather than the poor,
- cyborgs and the creation of machine-humans and human-machines, and finally
- some of the ethical issues that need to be discussed if we are to balance the benefits of new technologies whilst limiting their harm.
I very much hope that what I have to say is thought-provoking and interesting. We need much wider public debate on these issues!
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 it has been a real privilege to work with colleagues from these organisations and other partners over the last 18 months to try to help forge this partnership to reduce the inequalities between men and women in the digital age. There are three partner Coalitions within EQUALS: for Skills (led by GIZ and UNESCO); Access (led by the GSMA); and Leadership (led by the ITC). These are supported by a Research Group, led by the UNU-CS. The picture above shows the first Principals meeting held in September 2017 at the edges of the UN General Assembly in New York.
Despite all of the efforts to achieve increasing female participation in STEM subjects, in employment and leadership positions in the ICT sector, and in the use of ICTs to help towards women’s empowerment, most of the indicators show that gender digital inequality is increasing. At the broadest level, this means that most of the initiatives undertaken to date to reduce these inequalities have failed. Business as usual is therefore not an option, and the EQUALS partnership is intended to encourage committed partners to work together in new ways, and on new initiatives, to help deliver Sustainable Development Goal 5, to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”.
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 both Liz Quaglia and I were able to represent the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D (at Royal Holloway, University of London) at this meeting, which was attended by researchers and policymakers from 21 universities and organizations around the world. This meeting 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 three Coalitions’ thinking around gender and equality in the 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 BBQ and dancing on the last night ensured that memories of this event will last for a long time in everyone’s minds!