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How can digital technology support gender equality in the MENA region?

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The exponential growth of digital technology creates new opportunities for women to engage in the digital economy, including e-commerce. This can enable access to new markets for imports and exports, thereby connecting women-led businesses to the rest of the world.  In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, these opportunities must be seized, even if at present women in most of the MENA countries generally have lower access to digital technology than men. Closing the skills gap by training women in leadership and developing women’s business skills will facilitate the creation of start-up businesses and generate thousands of jobs that will transform the economy of the region.

On the occasion of the 63rd session on the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), UNIDO, together with the Permanent Missions of Italy and Jordan, Morocco’s Fédération des Technologies de l’Information, des Télécommunications et de l’Offshoring, FAO, ITU and UN Women, jointly hosted a side-event to address the question, “How can digital technology support gender equality in the MENA region?”

In her opening remarks, Sima Sami Bahous, the Permanent Representative of Jordan to the United Nations, said, “Jordan believes that digitalization leads to justice, inclusion and equality. We also believe that our efforts are well-focused on bridging the divide between men and women in the digital divide. We also believe that good governance is important for our drive for social inclusion and human resource development. These are the major issues that we need to look at and to see how they could best serve gender equality.”

In a panel discussion that followed, participants considered the practices for supporting gender equality in the MENA region that can be leveraged by digital technology. There was an emphasis on the power of designing training tool-kits for women in order to facilitate an understanding of how technology can be used to run their businesses more effectively and sustainable. A wide range of practices were presented, from the use of blockchain technology to track the quality of agricultural supplies to reaching new markets for import and export by use of new digital platforms. There was agreement that women must be included in the design of ICT infrastructure to tackle challenges such as lack of access to cash, capital and to basic technology.

A new major trend to be considered is cyber security. Ninety percent of the future workforce will require cyber security training as a part of ICT training and this could become a major generator of jobs for women in the MENA region.

Another issue discussed was how ICT can facilitate women’s empowerment in rural regions. The importance of strengthening the digital ecosystem was emphasized, in particular by boosting infrastructure in rural regions through enhanced gender-sensitive investments in digital infrastructure.

Mariangela Zappia, Permanent Representative of Italy to the United Nations, said, “For the Italian government, there is a growing awareness of how the digital economy can represent a powerful tool to transform the ways in which women live and work…Gender mainstreaming is an integral part of Italy’s development cooperation programme, especially in the Mediterranean and sub-Sahara regions, and in this regard, I would like to highlight the programme that we run together with UNIDO: Promoting Women Empowerment for Inclusive and Sustainable Industrial Development in the MENA region.”

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Deloitte Debuts ‘Blockchain In a Box’ (BIAB)

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Deloitte today introduced “Blockchain in a Box” (BIAB) designed to provide intuitive, tangible blockchain demonstrations and experimentations. It is a mobile, self-contained technology platform capable of hosting blockchain-based solutions across four small-form-factor compute nodes and three video displays, as well as networking components that enable integration with external services, such as traditional cloud technologies. Each compute node accepts Secure Digital (SD) card media, facilitating rapid selection and exchange of demo solutions tailored to specific client needs.

“Deloitte custom built this solution based on client interest in understanding blockchain capabilities in live interactions,” said Linda Pawczuk, principal, Deloitte Consulting LLP and U.S. blockchain leader and co-leader of global blockchain group. “What’s often misunderstood about blockchain is that it is an entirety of a technology solution — when in reality, it’s a technology component that enables larger business applications and approaches. Our mobile demonstration is practical, tactical and most importantly, tangible to clients.”

Deloitte has demonstrated the BIAB to several clients and to the broader blockchain and emerging technology community at multiple conferences, including Consensus 2019.

“Each time we have used the BIAB to facilitate exploration, the reaction is that of curiosity and excitement where the audience leaves with a deeper understanding of blockchain and how the use cases are implemented,” said Chih-Wei Yi, principal, Deloitte & Touche LLP. “It helps to demystify blockchain and is a refreshing and well-grounded approach versus traditional slideware-based demonstrations.”

Earlier this year, Deloitte released its annual Global Blockchain Survey, which revealed that blockchain investment continues to surge as new, practical business applications gain traction and business leaders begin to see beyond the “hype cycle.” Eighty-three percent of the 2019 survey respondents said their organizations see compelling use cases for blockchain, and more than half (53%) reported that blockchain technology has become a critical priority for their organization this year — a 10 percentage point increase over last year.

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Creating a common approach to the digital economy and Industry 4.0

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Photo credits: The Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation (CTO)

The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) participated in a forum of the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation (CTO) to discuss how international organizations can promote the development of the ICT infrastructure and new technologies in order to realize digital economies.

Mr. Bernardo Calzadilla-Sarmiento, UNIDO’s Director of the Department of Trade, Investment and Innovation, highlighted UNIDO’s role and functions in leveraging the potential of Industry 4.0 to meet the sustainable development goals (SDGs). Technical cooperation, developing new norms and standards, and the convening of stakeholders and partnerships to share best practices are ways of enabling this.

“Industry 4.0 is going to bring about far reaching changes and governments must implement best practices to address these important challenges.”

More than a dozen international bodies took part in the forum, including the African Union, ASEAN, the OECD and the World Economic Forum, who all agreed that public-private partnerships are key to combat the existing digital divide, both in terms of infrastructure and technical solutions, which include building capacities and using innovation in ICT.

The International Telecommunication Union further highlighted the need to support the development of and harmonization of international standards, which survey the readiness of enterprises for Industry 4.0.

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APEC Strengthens Trust with Data Protection System

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Data protection in the Asia-Pacific region has just received a significant boost with the appointment of the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) by Singapore as its accountability agent. Singapore joined the APEC Cross-Border Privacy Rules (CBPR) system in March last year and has become the third economy after the United States and Japan to operationalize the system.

Adopted in 2011 and endorsed by the 21 APEC Leaders, the CBPR system allows participating businesses and other organizations to develop their own internal rules and policies consistent with the specific CBPR program requirements upon which the certification is based in order to secure cross-border data privacy.

As accountability agents, IMDA will ensure the privacy policies and practices of participating organizations comply with the APEC CBPR and Privacy Recognition for Processors (PRP) through independent third party assessments before certifying them.

“The appointment of the IMDA by Singapore as the new accountability agent of the CBPR system shows the deep commitment from members to pursue a better data protection mechanism that does not hinder innovation and development,” said Shannon Coe, Chair of the APEC Electronic Commerce Steering Group.

Data protection is an urgent issue for businesses in the region, which is home to 45 per cent of the world’s internet users—about 1.99 billion people. People and businesses are connected globally, with more and more data flowing across borders.

“Trust is key to the growth and development of the digital economy,” added Coe. ”A strong data protection system is beneficial for both businesses and consumers and furthers participation in the digital economy.”

The approval of the IMDA as an accountability agent in Singapore was reached by the Joint Oversight Panel of the APEC Electronic Commerce Steering Group, which administers the APEC CBPR system. IMDA will join other accountability agents such as Schellman & Company, TrustArc in the United States and the Japan Institute for Promotion of Digital Economy and Community (JIPDEC) in Japan.

“In APEC, we are working to include more people to participate in the economy through digital trade and related processes. We can achieve this by ensuring that we have the right system in place to protect consumers’ data. This builds not only trust, but confidence for both consumers and the businesses,” said APEC Secretariat Executive Director, Dr Rebecca Sta Maria.

There are currently eight participating APEC economies in the CBPR system, including Australia, Canada, the Republic of Korea, Japan, Mexico, Singapore, Chinese Taipei and the United States.

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