Strengthened call from the UN General Assembly for bridging digital divides
On 20 December 2017, the United Nations General Assembly adopted by consensus the resolution Information and Communications Technologies for Sustainable Development (A/RES/72/200). This annual resolution was negotiated under agenda item 16 on information and communications technologies in the UN General Assembly’s Second Committee.
Key themes addressed in the resolution include the vital role of information and communication technologies (ICTs) as a means of implementation and critical enabler for Agenda 2030; the major impediments that developing countries face in accessing new technologies; the challenges to bridge the digital divides between and within countries, between women and men, and between girls and boys; and the need to emphasize quality of access using a multidimensional approach that includes speed, stability, affordability, language, local content and accessibility for persons with disabilities. All stakeholders were urged to integrate ICTs into their approaches for implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and United Nations entities facilitating the World Summit on the Information Society action lines were requested to review their reporting and workplans to support the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.
This year’s resolution saw a strengthened focus on the need and importance of bridging digital divides, including on gender. ITU’s International Girls in ICT Day and the EQUALS Global Partnership for Gender Equality in the Digital Age were also welcomed for the first time in a General Assembly resolution. Member States also noted the 21st session of the Commission on Science and Technology, which will include as a priority theme: “Building digital competencies to benefit from existing and emerging technologies, with special focus on gender and youth dimensions”.
Other key references to ITU and its work include ITU’s role as joint organizer of the annual World Summit on the Information Society Forum, ITU’s efforts to help bridge digital divides and expand access, including through the Connect 2020 Agenda for Global Telecommunication/Information and Communications Technologies Development and the work of the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development, including its report The State of Broadband 2017: Broadband Catalysing Sustainable Development, its Working Group on Education, and its Working Group on the Digital Gender Divide.
Member States took note of the Broadband Commission’s report on “Digital skills for life and work”, which highlights the emergence of a new global skills gap in which gender, class, geography and age can have a significant impact on whether a person is able to harness new technologies and which presents strategies for ensuring that all groups of people can develop those skills. Member States also took note of the recommendations for action in the progress report of the Broadband Commission Working Group on the Digital Gender Divide, namely, understanding the context of the divide through sex-disaggregated data, integrating a gender perspective into strategies, policies, plans and budgets, addressing barriers, including access, affordability, safety, digital skills and relevance, and collaboration and sharing good practices.
Other themes addressed in the resolution include capacity development, e-commerce, the opportunities and challenges of rapid technological change, the values and principles of multi-stakeholder engagement and collaboration, reiteration of the commitment to leaving no one behind and reaching the furthest behind first, the Internet Governance Forum, the Working Group on Enhanced Cooperation, e-government, private sector investment in ICTs and the enabling environments for it, and the Technology Facilitation Mechanism. Member States requested the UN Secretary-General to submit a report on the status of implementation of and follow up to the resolution next year and also decided to include ICTs for Sustainable Development as an agenda item in their provisional agenda for its 73rd session next year.