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The Women of Plenipot

by: Kathryn O'Brien

October 5, 2010

(Part of the ongoing WISENET Series)

[[wysiwyg_imageupload:243:height=100,width=115]]I am at the International Telecommunications Union’s Plenipotentiary Conference in Guadalajara, Mexico. The Plenipot, as it is called, occurs every four years, and is where senior officials are elected, the budget established, and the strategic plan set for the next four years. In short, it is the most important conference for the ITU.

Given the importance of the Plenipot, it seems the perfect time to reflect on the status of women in the ITU. On the one hand, there is good news to report – participation of women at ITU conferences, and at this Plenipot, is up substantially. On the other hand, the situation is rather grim. There has never been a women elected to a senior post - Secretary General, Deputy Secretary General, or Director of one of the three Bureaus. At this Plenipot, there is only one woman running for any of these posts; Veena Rawat from Industry Canada is running for Director of the Radiocommunications Bureau. Does it matter that a woman has never been elected to a senior post at the ITU? I think it does. I believe diversity of perspectives makes an organization stronger. The ITU has recognized that in encouraging a particular focus on women (as well as youth and people with disabilities) in its programs and requiring regional diversity in the elected officials and staff (which means that there is a measure of racial diversity at the organization). Yet, when it comes to women, there is a complete lack of representation at the senior levels. The elections for senior officials will occur next Thursday and Friday, October 7 and 8. I will keep you posted on what happens. In the meantime, I would be interested in your view of whether this is an issue we should be concerned about and if it is, what can be done to increase the representation of women in senior posts at the ITU.

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