My impressions of empowerment at the WSIS+10, Geneva
Earlier this month, I was honoured to represent World Pulse at the UN sponsored World Summit on the Information Society - WSIS+10 High Level Event in Geneva, Switzerland! Being a long time advocate of meaningful participation of youth, especially young women, at global policy making platforms, it was an amazing and empowering experience to be speaking to industry leaders and other major stakeholders about the perspectives of the world’s most vibrant community of women leaders!
I would like to take this opportunity to thank World Pulse, its dedicated staff and leadership for providing women like me with the opportunity to share our stories with the rest of the world through platform like WSIS+10 that not only influences policy around the globe but also showcases the best practices from governments and organisations for better integration of ICTs for development.
The World Pulse workshop 'The Power of Digital Media - Bringing Women a Global Voice,' that I chaired focused on the results of the Women Weave the Web Campaign. As I was preparing for his event, I read through dozens of testimonies and submissions by our World Pulse sisters. The more I read the individual stories of women leaders designing solutions for better Access and digital empowerment in their respective communities, the more I felt humbled and honoured to be part of this wonderful community that World Pulse has managed to build. Honestly, I wish I had the time to share all of them, which was a bit of an unfeasible plan given the time we had. I was also a panelist at the IFLA workshop on 'Conquering the Digital Divide: How public access to ICTs supports development in the information society’. The panel chair, Mr. Stuart Hamilton had to remind me that I had already spoken for longer than my speaking slot allowed!
The stories that my World Pulse sisters shared through this WWW campaign are the realities on the ground that will help shape the policies for betterment and bridging of the gender digital divide. I often hear that we should promote harmony among men and women and not promote a separate agenda for empowering women only. My response to them is, yes, I agree. Harmony among all human beings is vital, but if women are not granted the equality and respect they deserve, preaching for harmony is pointless. If you cannot guarantee women EQUALITY, do not expect harmony either! ITU research shows that there is a stark difference in the number of men and women who have access to digital tools. This digital divide gets even wider when we look at remote and rural areas.
Often, the barriers to access are tied to the socio-cultural and religious norms of that society. When it comes to digital empowerment of women, I could not help but notice how women living on the opposite side of the globe have very similar challenges! For example, I had the same problems with my digital access and digital literacy project in Layyah, Pakistan that my WorldPulse sister Olutosin had in Lagos, Nigeria; lack of proper infrastructure and unsafe internet cafes! The list of ‘barriers to access’ goes on! But these are barriers which are beyond the control of individuals and have to be addressed by ICT companies and governments. Otherwise the impact we are hoping to achieve is going to remain slow.
My digital empowerment, which allowed me to represent the voices of my community to the rest of the world was seen as a major threat to the Pakistani cultural norms. I often heard that my example would “spoil” other girls too as they might also want to follow my footsteps and leave their homes for higher education or a career! Speaking from personal experience, ICTs, Internet and technology allowed me to start an organisation (ChunriChoupaal) to empower more women with digital literacy and related skills. For my initiative, I am developing an online learning platform with sisters I met through the Internet and my online networks. I started my own business initiative (Gill Nonprofit Consulting) to empower organisations and women groups to harness the power of digital media for greater impact. I am working not just with groups in developing countries but with European organisations as well. Oddly enough, most of my clients end up being women who are talented in their field. This gives me an amazing sense of satisfaction in my work. I was recently selected Fundraising and Nonprofit Working Group Mentor for the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women’s “Mentoring Women in Business Programme.” This platform mentors women from across the globe who wish to start or improve their business skills.
I strongly believe that girls from my community and girls and women from around the globe have the same potential and rights to achieve independence, empowerment and success in their lives. Women and girls have the right to have access to technology, information and freedom to achieve what they want in their lives. We just need to slightly nudge them in the right direction so that they can unlock their potential, and that direction comes from more empowerment programs for their skill and capacity building!
Organisations like World Pulse and platforms like WSIS+10 are crucial to accelerating the mainstreaming of women in accessing ICTs and contribute to their social and economic betterment. Equality cannot be achieved unless women are given equal opportunities for personal and professional development. I am glad that I am fortunate to be part of the group that focuses on solutions and not just the problems!
A big thank you once again to World Pulse, its leadership, its committed staff and incredible community for contributing to the empowerment of grass-root women leaders worldwide and making a lasting change!