Välisminister Urmas Paeti sõnavõtt Eesti, Botswana, Mongoolia ja UNDP poolt korraldatud kõrvalüritusel Info- ja kommunikatsioonitehnoloogia ning interneti rollist naiste ja tüdrukute võimustamisel


Excellences, distinguished panellists, Ladies and Gentlemen,


I warmly welcome you all to this side-event addressing the role of ICT and the Internet as a Powerful Means to Advance the Rights and Empowerment of Women and Girls. I also welcome the co-organizers from

  • Botswana – Permanent Representative to the UN, H.E. Mr. Charles Ntwaagae,

  • Mongolia – State Secretary of the Ministry of Population Development and Social Protection, H.E. Ms Otgonjargal,

  • UNDP – H.E. Ms. Helen Clark, who chairs the Broadband Commission Working Group on Gender.


    I also welcome Ms. Lakshmi Puri, ASG of the UN, Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, and Ms. Madeleine Earp, representing Freedom House and the Freedom on the Net programme. Last but not least, our moderator Jac SM Kee from the Association for Progressive Communications (APC).


    Dear friends,


    This is truly a gathering of  experts as the Broadband Commission Working Group on Gender, Freedom House, and APC, all have been involved in composing some very strong reports addressing today’s topic. As the report of the Broadband Commission Working Group on Gender “Doubling Digital Opportunities. Enhancing the inclusion of women and girls in the information society” declares, ICT policy development is often seen merely as a technical issue with little relationship to other development areas. At the same time, many national gender-centred policies do not take into consideration the use of ICT as a key enabler in expanding the reach of those policies in order to accelerate progress.


    Being aware of the hard-won gains towards gender equality in the past 20 years, women and girls across the world still continue to be disproportionately affected by poverty, injustice, violence and discrimination. In many societies, girls and women are subject to deep-rooted and harmful social norms, attitudes and behaviours that assign them a lower economic, political and social status than men and boys. It is imperative that we turn our attention to the 21st century development toolbox, and the ICT and Internet are some of the major tools to overcome these shortages. I would like to address some issues of utmost importance.


    Firstly, when speaking about empowerment, we need to address education. Studies on education present clear connection between the years spent in school and the average wages earned later on. Those studies are proof that for every year of primary education, a girl’s earnings increase by 5 to 15 percent. Just one additional year of secondary schooling boosts girls’ future earning potential by 15-25 percent. The World Bank found in 2012 that by eliminating discrimination against women in the workplace, they could boost worker productivity by up to 40%. Microsoft rightly pointed out last year, that while everyone is watching the economic potential of so-called emerging BRIC economies, the most challenging new emerging market in the world may well be women and their capability to generate economic value and social growth.


    ICT as an education promoter and in its role of enabling schooling possibilities even in remote areas without a schoolhouse via web-courses, plays a significant role in tackling those challenges.

    Moreover, there is much more behind the interdependence of ICT and education. Education, especially the educational levels above primary, is also crucial in preventing early and forced marriages or avoiding children from falling victim to warlords using them as child soldiers. Keeping that in mind, ICT as an education promoter and in its role of helping to offer schooling possibilities even in remote areas without a schoolhouse via web-courses, plays a significant role to tackle those challenges.


    Secondly, when speaking of one’s rights, there is a strong link between freedom of opinion and expression online and offline and advancing democratic civic society. Access to internet creates new possibilities to further human rights; it is part of the democracy education of how to implement one’s civic rights, of how to enhance one’s civic empowerment, of how to participate in public policy-making processes – or, as per the modern term – how to be a responsible netizen. Using the possibilities of being a netizen does not mean that people merely become virtual citizens, made of anonymous and impersonal bits and bytes. On the contrary – as many cases across the world have shown us, the internet is a powerful tool which contains the force to move entire nations.


    Ladies and gentlemen,


    Despite marked success in some countries, it is a sad statistical fact that women and girls do not have equitable access to the Internet. Many states still do not yet avail equal access to ICT as a basic right for the entire population. The ITU estimate is that there are about 200 million fewer women online than men. On the opposite end of the spectrum, in Estonia for example, we make full and positive use of ICT. To prove that this is not utopian, we are ready to show you our electronic Estonia – so-called e-Estonia – with all its success stories and as well as hardships.


    Using ICT to build innovative e-governance services helped us to build a more efficient and transparent public administration. With 100% of schools and government organizations using broadband connection, Estonia has topped the list of countries worldwide in terms of Internet freedom for several years. Bold use of ICT has been and continues to be a business catalyst and presents new possibilities for civil society participation of all social groups, including the most vulnerable groups: women, children and people with disabilities. To give you some examples: Estonia was the first country where people could cast their vote online in parliamentary and municipal elections. Almost every taxpayer in Estonia files annual income tax returns via the Internet. E-government, E-school, E-medical prescriptions, and electronic land-registry are only some of the examples of Estonian innovation in the field of citizen-friendly public services which increase transparency and help prevent corruption. Therefore, by also reducing costs, E-solutions help build more coherent, inclusive and sustainable societies.


    However, many states are still not yet proactive in implementing ICT development and policies to coordinate efforts among the public sector, businesses and civil society. The gender gap and digital divide are not artificial constructs, they are reality. In this light, the key question is how shall we tackle these issues?


    The Millennium Development Goals did not specifically address ICT and the Internet. Today it is evident that women’s and girls’ access to ICT, as well as freedom online/offline together with human rights promotion are crucial for long-term sustainable development. Therefore, it is my strong belief that we shall go for a forward-looking, achievable SDG on ICT and Internet and to promote balanced gender access to those technological tools. We shall look for actions that increase women’s ICT skills. We shall look for actions to provide equal access to ICTs for women, actions to promote female empowerment through ICT, and actions to promote women’s roles in cross-societal decision making.


    World-wide, there are already many good practices in place. For example, in the field of education, UNESCO has joint projects with ECOWAS to analyse curricula from a gender perspective. Cicso, Intel, Ericsson – private ICT companies – provide ICT-based education programmes. There are projects encouraging female entrepreneurship in Africa supported by UNCTAD, and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency. They have reached the understanding, that female entrepreneurs reinvest into their communities, drive growth and inspire girls to chase their own dreams despite financial or cultural barriers.


    Ladies and Gentlemen,


    With that insight, I look forward to your further discussions and thoughts concerning lessons-learned and best practices, in particular your thoughts on innovative programming and financing to contribute to the enhancement of the role of ICT and the Internet as a Means to Advance the Rights and Empowerment of Women and Girls. Bearing in mind the multistakeholder high level conference of the Freedom Online Coalition taking place in Tallinn on 28-29 April this year. I hope that we will be able to bridge the Tallinn conference outcome document with the results of today’s discussion.


I thank you, and I wish us a lively continuation of the discussion.


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