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  • Belinda Exelby

Addressing Gender Inequalities in Tech: reflections on the EDD 2019

Updated: Nov 19, 2020

(l. to r.) Joyce Dogniez, VP, Community Engagement and Development, Internet Society and Chair of the EQUALS Steering Committee; Claire Gillissen-Duval, Director of Corporate and Social Responsibility, SAP; Arancha Gonzalez, Executive Director, International Trade Center; Belinda Exelby, Head of International Relations at GSMA and Vice-Chair of the EQUALS Steering Committee; Seynabou Thiam, CEO of Smart Ecosystem for Women (SEW); Lars Erik Forsberg, Deputy Head of Unit, European Commission, Carla Licciardello, Intersectoral Coordinator for Gender &Child Online Protection, ITU; Adam Vink, Policy and Advocacy Manager, the ONE Campaign.

The European Development Days (EDD), “organised by the European Commission… bring[s] the development community together each year to share ideas and experiences in ways that inspire new partnerships and innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges”.

The theme of this year’s EDD was Addressing inequalities: Building a world which leaves no one behind. So it was very apt that EQUALS, with its mission to address digital gender inequalities, should be invited to host a Lab Debate within the EDD programme.

The focus of our panel discussion was on driving capacity and skills for women in ICT. We were fortunate to have a great line-up of speakers from across the EQUALS Global Partnership.

The session took place on 19 June, the second day of EDD, which this year attracted more than 66,000 attendees in total. The event was once again held in Brussels’ converted warehouse venue, Tour & Taxis. The venue provided a stunning backdrop for the conference sessions and many exhibition stands, and created an unusually relaxed and collegiate vibe. (Through its glass roof, we were treated to a spectacular view of lightning accompanying a heavy thunderstorm just a few minutes before our session started. Luckily, this did not seem to impact the size of our audience too much, though some of them looked rather wet.)

As moderator of the EQUALS session, I urged both panellists and the audience to reflect on the need to remove barriers to entry and advancement for women in the tech sector, the socio-cultural issues that translate into gender digital inequality, the ICT gender equality paradox, mainstreaming efforts and financing for female entrepreneurship, and awareness-raising and advocacy for promoting the inclusion of women and girls in digital spaces. Speakers also addressed the urgent need for more gender-disaggregated data to underpin advocacy on gender-related issues and inform policy-making that will drive real change.

What struck me in particular was that EDD19 provided a strong platform for showcasing the work that EQUALS is doing to an audience of relevant stakeholders primarily from the Global South and with interests spanning a wide range of topics and sectors, all of which are underpinned by technology. Ensuring that women are equally represented in this sector is more important than ever. A key theme that emerged from the discussions was the importance of genuine partnerships, and the need for different stakeholder groups to unite if we are ever going to successfully address the challenges raised by gender inequalities.

As Vice Chair of the EQUALS Steering Committee, I very much hope that on the back of this event, we will see more potential partners approaching EQUALS to join our “coalition of the willing” and add their weight to the cause of reversing the increasing gender digital divide.

About the Author

Belinda Exelby is responsible for managing GSMA’s relationships with international organizations, including the International Telecommunication Union and other UN agencies, the Broadband Commission, the World Bank and the OECD.

Belinda also manages the GSMA’s external policy and regulatory training programme on mobile technology and ICT-related topics. This portfolio includes the Capacity Building programme, which delivers free face-to-face and online training courses for governments and regulators worldwide, and GSMA Advance, a curriculum of training courses for mobile operators and other commercial organisations.

Belinda is a Board Director of the US Telecommunications Training Institute (USTTI), an elected member of the Advisory Council of the Alliance for Affordable Internet, and Vice Chair of the Steering Committee of EQUALS.

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