Opening Remarks by SRSG Parfait Onanga-Anyanga on IWD Panel Discussion, March 8, 2023
Opening Remarks by Mr. Parfait Onanga-Anyanga
UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General to the African Union and Head of the United Nations Office to the African Union.
8th March 2023: 3:00pm ET African Time
Venue: UNECA Conference Hall Room 5
It is my great pleasure and honour to welcome you to mark this year’s International Women’s Day (IWD). I would like to thank all of you for attending this important event, showing your commitment to supporting the empowerment of women, and in particular your interest in the use of technology to promote women’s participation in building peace in Africa. I will keep my opening remarks brief to give more time to our experts and women present here today to share their experience, insights and wisdom.
As you are all aware, every year on 8th March, the world observes IWD, a day set aside to raise awareness of issues pertaining to women's rights, including gender equality. This year’s IWD theme is “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality”. This theme is aligned with the priority theme for the 67th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW-67), which is entitled “Innovation and technological change, and education in the digital age for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls”. This year’s topic gives us the opportunity to reflect on digital inclusion in the context of the implementation of the Gender, Women, Peace and Security Agenda.
I would like to underscore that digital inclusion does not only support women’s economic empowerment, but benefits the society as a whole, including its men. In today’s world, access to technology and digital literacy are essential aspects of our daily lives. With the increasing reliance on technology for trade, education, communication, health care and basic service delivery, digital literacy has become a crucial skill. However, it is evident that not everyone has equal access to technology. Women and girls are often left behind, and are therefore unable to benefit from the positive impact that digitalization can have. This inequality is particularly apparent in rural areas and in conflict-prone contexts.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Looking specifically at the area of Peace and Security: The process of digital transformation across the peace and security sector in Africa was hastened by COVID-19. Indeed, conflict parties and stakeholders increasingly use digital technology, especially social media, to further their agendas and interests. This trend toward greater digitization of peace processes among those directly involved in conflicts, however, has only recently begun to be mirrored by mediation teams in Africa. Digital technology can make it easier to include a wide range of stakeholders in peace processes. We have seen it work in peace negotiations for example in South Sudan, Libya and DRC, where women were able to come together and shape their views and transmit them through social media.
Indeed, digital technology can support a mediator’s efforts to integrate a broad variety of perspectives, interests, and needs into a peace process. More particularly, digital inclusion can serve such strategic purposes as strengthening the legitimacy of peace processes and their outcomes, empowering women and marginalized groups, transforming community relationships, and reducing threats to vulnerable groups or risks to a peace process.
Therefore, as we strive to leverage digital transformation, we need to remain alive to the reality that the gender digital divide environment does not accord similar opportunities to women and girls to access the digital world, as it does for men and boys, thereby limiting opportunities for women and girls to fully engage as empowered economic, social and political actors. This reality, therefore, dictates the need for strengthening women’s skills to play an important role in narrowing the gender wage gap, let alone help in the documentation of crime against women and girls during and after conflict. I should also underscore, that working together, men, boys, women and girls, we can close this gender gap.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
There is, however, wariness of technology due to its inherent risks - when it is used to promote hate speech for example.
This calls for us to build capacity of women and awareness of how to deal with the unwanted evil of online abuse against women and girls, and indeed the deceptions that come with it. Better legislation, increased capacities and new safeguards are needed to eliminate gender-based violence facilitated by technology, and to protect the rights of women and girls online.
For us at UNOAU, advancing the Women, Peace and Security agenda is crucial, and I am very grateful for the important work of our Gender Unit. You are probably all familiar with some of our WPS activities that we conduct jointly with the African Union, such as our ‘She stands for Peace’ Podcast and eBook. However, we are aware that so much more needs to be done to ensure the successful implementation of the WPS agenda. I am therefore very grateful for today’s event, and the scheduled panel discussion that will provide us with the opportunity to further reflect on the WPS agenda in the context of this year’s IWD theme.
In conclusion, I am delighted to see the high turnout for this event, and the interest we all have in supporting the acceleration of the achievement of the WPS agenda in Africa, using digital inclusion.
Together, let’s work for more digital inclusion for women and girls, and thereby transform Africa into the continent we want.
I look forward to a fruitful deliberation.
With this, I open the floor for further discussions.