» Achieving the SDGs with broadband and ICTs: Overcoming the gender digital divide, education and investment cha...
21.09.2016 - Communication & Information Sector

Achieving the SDGs with broadband and ICTs: Overcoming the gender digital divide, education and investment challenges

UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information, Frank La Rue, addressing the Broadband Commission plenary on 18 September 2016. © ITU

The 14th meeting of the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development, chaired by H.E. President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Mexico’s Carlos Slim Helú, with ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao and UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova as co-vice chairs, took place on Saturday 17 and Sunday 18 September 2016 in New York, USA.

Broadband uses for sustainable development and particularly for gender equality and education were among the key UNESCO topics debated at this 14th Broadband Commission meeting in NY this weekend. The Commission brought leaders from governments, the private sector, civil society and international organizations together, at the eve of the opening of the UN General Assembly. The plenary meeting of the Broadband Commission was opened by welcoming remarks from H.E. President Kagame, Mr Carlos Slim Helú, Dr. David Nabarro, Ms Irina Bokova and Mr Houlin Zhao, who also welcomed five new Commissioners: Mr Jean-Yves Charlier, H.E. Ramin Guluzade, H.E. Anusha Rahman Khan, Ms Catherine Novelli and Mr Rupert Pearce (see here for more information).

Dr. David Nabarro, Special Advisor to the UN Secretary General on the Sustainable Development Agenda, delivered a message on behalf of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, highlighting that: “Thanks to the work of the Broadband Commission, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and many others, Member States agreed in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development on the importance of ICTs, broadband and global interconnectedness for bridging the digital divide, developing knowledge societies and accelerating human progress.” Ms Bokova, UNESCO’s Director-General, stressed that “The digital revolution must be a development revolution – revolution for human rights and dignity – a revolution that empowers every woman and man, every society.”

The first plenary session on “Building on Broadband to Leave No One Behind”, analysed the advantages and limitations of broadband and information and communication technologies (ICTs) as a catalyzer for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Commissioners specifically explored broadband and ICTs’ role as regards making education and life-long learning, as well as public healthcare, more available and equitable. UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information, Mr Frank La Rue, underlined that education is a Human Right and that: “The importance of information and communication technologies, of broadband and mobile technology lies in the fact that they can accelerate progress on key education challenges: on equity, on inclusion, on access and on quality.” After intensive discussions, UNESCO’s Director-General proposed to re-launch a Working Group on Education, which was welcomed.

On Saturday 17 September, the Commission’s Working Group on Digital Health, on Demand and on the Digital Gender Divide held meetings at the UN Women Headquarters to advance on their respective activities. UNESCO’s Director-General, Ms Bokova, co-chaired the gender working group with the Director-General of GSMA, Mr Granryd. Indeed, the gender gap grew by 1% between 2013 and 2016 and there are, for example, still 202 million fewer women than men owning a mobile phone in 2016. The Commission works on a set of recommendations, a related action plan and concrete commitments to overcome the digital gender divide.

In her concluding remarks, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova stressed the vital importance of the soft ICT components, of policy-, content- and capacity development, stating that “true innovation lies less in access and technology itself, and more in the use put to it by women and men, in the ingenuity they bring to harnessing its power to better their lives.” Only with such a holistic approach can Broadband be fully harnessed for sustainable development.

The working groups will continue to advance until the 15th face-to-face meeting of the Broadband Commission in Shanghai, China in spring 2017.

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