Technology is a key component for providing equal rights and opportunities to women. But too few broadband initiatives or national ICT policies have specific, gender-empowerment targets. If we are to achieve long-term, sustainable development, women must be part of an overall plan to bridge the digital divide.
Today, the total mobile subscriptions number is around 6 billion, and we predict that they will reach 9 billion by the end of 2018. Much of that growth will come from the developing world, where the potential to connect women is great. According to the latest figures from the ITU, on average nearly 16 percent fewer women than men in the developing world have access to the internet. That gap increases in sub-Saharan Africa.
Women have not benefited equally from the enormous growth in connectivity. However, there are projects ongoing today that are beginning to have a transformational impact on women in the developing world. The success of these is based on actually getting more women actively involved in ICT.
In his statement today, International Women's Day, Dr. Hamadoun Touré, ITU Secretary-General, says that the ICT industry itself represents an exceptional opportunity for girls and women to build rewarding careers that offer both economic independence and a stimulating fast-evolving work environment. I feel that if our industry wants to be a forerunner, we need to take this opportunity forward.
Along with a colleague in the US, Barbara Baffer, I recently became personally involved with the Women Leading Women in ICT (WLW-ICT) working group, which is a commitment from the Clinton Global Initiative.
This working group is exploring opportunities for women and girls to have increased collaboration with, and expanded access to ICT.
At Ericsson we are committed to supporting the advancement of women in our company, and as a member of the European Roundtable of Industrialists, we have recently signed a voluntary target to increase the number of women in decision-making roles. We are also one of several Swedish companies cooperating in the Battle of the Numbers (Swedish website) initiative, which aims to get more women into key operative and decision-making roles.
Like some of our peers in the industry, we want to shed some light on the importance of women and ICT, and work collaboratively to do something about it. If we are serious about bridging the digital divide, connecting the next billion and engaging women in ICT, empowering women must be a prioritized part of our own strategies.
Next week I will be attending the Broadband Commission for Digital Development annual meeting in Mexico City. The working group on Broadband and Gender will meet, and together we will outline some concrete deliverables for bringing priority and focus to this area.