The potential of ICTs and the Internet to catalyse gender equality and women’s economic empowerment was the focus of an Internet Governance Forum workshop which took place in Geneva on the opening day of the Forum.

Organised by the International Chamber of Commerce Business Action to Support the Information Society (ICC BASIS), the Self Employed Women’s Association of India and the African Union’s new Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), the multistakeholder workshop brought together participants from business, government civil society and technical community, to showcase the multifold ways in which digital technology can impact gender equality by providing women with access to education, financial means, healthcare information, and tools that can make them feel more physically secure – all creating opportunities for them to participate more readily in the labour market.

Women are a value add to the ICT sector,” said Mata Coulibaly of NEPAD.

Asma Ennafer of Orange Tunisia gave a concrete example of how young women were working to train older women through Orange’s Digital House for artisans. The training and establishment of a digital platform is helping to bring products to market and to date has increased sales and revenue returns by 70%.

The workshop heard how the ICT ecosystem can support sustainable development and highlighted how all stakeholders were playing a role in supporting the digital futures of women.

Ambassador Tobias Feakin, Government of Australia

Discussions also underscored the need for women to have meaningful access to information communication technology (ICT), which relies on affordability, relevant content, skills and security among many other factors.

Participants shared their respective experiences on programmes implemented to support women in labour markets, gain access to resources and start their own business.

We’ve set ourselves some ambitious targets to, within five years, have filled at least 30% of the workforce skills gap with women,” said Tobias Feakin, Australia’s inaugural Ambassador for Cyber Affairs “All of our aid programmes have to consider issues relating to gender equality. Our foreign minister has set us targets requiring at least 80% of all investments, regardless of their objective, to effectively address gender issues.

Will Hudson, Google

Will Hudson of Google stressed that no one stakeholder group alone could address the digital gender gap, stating that while there was no one-size-fits-all solution, efforts like Google’s programme to train women in rural communities were kick starting a cycle of education and empowerment. “The Internet effects real world people and real world jobs,” said Mr Hudson who also underscored the importance of local partnerships, contacts and complementing the offline and the online.

A key take away from the discussion underscored the importance of including men in the dialogue of women’s economic empowerment and gender equality. Joyce Dogniez of ISOC said “Gender issues should not be a women only conversation.

Joyce Dogniez, ISOC

The discussion also underscored the importance of having all stakeholders involved in policymaking processes to ensure needs of women are factored into decision making.

BASIS Director Elizabeth Thomas Raynaud concluded the session stating that ICTs are an undeniable enabler in advancing the economic empowerment of women. Ms Thomas Raynaud drew attention to a recently issued ICC policy paper that highlights the role of different stakeholders in ICT development, advancement and policymaking.