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No more excuses! – Reflections on International Women’s Day 2023

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No more excuses! This declaration, uttered by Doreen Bogdan-Martin, the first woman Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in its 158-year history, reverberated across the United Nations (UN) General Assembly chamber. Women, dressed in all shades of blue in honour of women working in the tech sector, responded with loud cheers and applause. As Mary Ward women, we know what it means to be dismissed because of the perception that “we are but women,” so, on International Women’s Day, we gathered at the UN to stand with women and girls across the world, demanding that our fundamental rights are recognized.

The morning’s commemorative celebration of women and girls, under the theme “DigitALL: Innovation and Technology for Gender Equality,” featured several high-level speakers from the UN, including Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, President of the 77th session of the General Assembly Csaba Kőrösi, and Executive Director of UN Women Sima Bahous. The celebration, hosted by US broadcaster Sade Baderinwa also included music and panel discussions.

In his opening address, Ambassador Kőrösi painted a stark picture of the digital world. He said that “By 2050, 75 percent of jobs will be related to science, technology, engineering and math – STEM. Yet today, women make up merely one third of the workforce in the 20 largest global technology companies. And only 57 percent of women use internet.” Not only are women disadvantaged in terms of technological access and education, women and girls are 27 times more likely than men to face online harassment or hate speech. Consequently, women and girls limit their online activity, widening the digital divide.

In his remarks, UN Secretary General Guterres spoke of three challenges. First, there must be action to close the connectivity gap. We must remove the barriers that prevent women and girls’ participation online. Second, change requires women in leadership positions. “Without women’s leadership, the Silicon Valleys of this world don’t disrupt the patriarchy; they simply digitize sexism and perpetuate inequalities.” And third, we need to make the online world safe for women and girls.

ITU Secretary General Bogdan-Martin urged all women and girls to maximize the present moment. She said, “We also have a unique opportunity… to ensure gender equality happens in our lifetime and not in 300 years. … No more excuses for not having digital gender equality now, everywhere.” UN Women Executive Director Bahous echoed the sentiment: “Digital rights are women’s rights.”

Host Ms. Baderinwa moderated a panel discussion with Marie Bjerre, Minister for Digital Government and Gender Equality, Denmark; Marion Reimers, a Mexican sports journalist and UN Women Goodwill Ambassador; and Gitanjali Rao, a 17-year-old inventor, innovator, author, STEM promoter, and UNICEF Youth Advocate. They each spoke of the challenges they have faced in their fields because of their gender and expressed their commitment to fighting for equality for women and girls. 17-year-old singer and songwriter Isabel Godfrey added her musical gifts to the morning through her performance of the song “Rise Up”, inspiring the whole crowd gathered in the General Assembly to sing along.

And I’ll rise up
I’ll rise like the day
I’ll rise up
I’ll rise unafraid
I’ll rise up
And I’ll do it a thousand times again
And I’ll rise up
High like the waves
I’ll rise up
In spite of the ache
I’ll rise up
And I’ll do it a thousand times again

At the UN, we bring the voices of the women and girls we work with around the world to those in positions of authority and decision-making. We push for change, we push for rights to be realized, and in a world growing ever more divided due to technology, we push for equality and justice.

No more excuses!

To learn more about the 2023 International Women’s Day information and celebration, click HERE.

Author: Sarah Rudolph IBVM, Canada

Photos: ITU Secretary General Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Sarah Rudolph IBVM, Panel at International Women’s Day celebration at the UN General Assembly Hall