India has called on the international community to tackle the twin digital divides - that between developed and developing nations and that between men and women in developing countries.
While "growth of information and communications technologies (ICT) over the past decade has exceeded all expectations," India's Ambassador to the UN Asoke Kumar Mukerji said Monday, the digital divide continued.
"A more significant facet to this digital divide," he said, was that in low-to-medium income countries fewer women had access to the Internet compared to men. "This lack of access is giving rise to a second digital divide, one where women and girls risk being left further and further behind," he warned.
Mukerji was speaking at a session of the UN General Assembly's Economic and Financial Committee on information and communications technologies for development, where he also reiterated that "as a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and democratic society", India was fully committed "to the free growth of the Internet".
Underlining the gender digital divide, Mukerji cited statistics from the International Forum on Women, ICT, and Development convened by the US State Department last year in Washington, which said that women were 23 percent less likely than men to use the Internet in low-to-medium income countries.
Invoking the "transformative potential of the 'mouse'", Mukerji said that "by applying enhanced ICT for women in education, healthcare, clean drinking water, and energy, we can significantly empower their role as force-multipliers in society".
He held out the "Digital India" programme as an example of how to work towards this goal.
"To overcome digital divide and enable the penetration of internet in the rural areas, the programme envisages the provision of high-speed internet as a core utility in all village assemblies. It will promote universal digital literacy and cradle-to-grave digital identity. It will enhance e-governance through the provision of all government services in real time from online and mobile platforms."
A report by Irina Bokova, the director-general of Unesco, presented at the meeting cited two examples of how ICT was used in India to enhance social development. The successful polio vaccination programme that led to India being certified free of the disease was attributed by Unicef to the communication and social mobilisation effort, the report said.
"Several organisations contributed to this historic achievement that addressed mis-perceptions and rumours held by families and communities that refused polio vaccines. The hardest-to-reach children were reached and have eventually been vaccinated."
The other example cited in the report is that of the "Child Survival and Development for Every Child in India" programme.
The report said, "Unicef strengthened the capacity of state governments to develop communication strategies for social and behaviour change in support" of the goals "and developed a communication for development curriculum, in collaboration with 10 leading Indian universities".
Addressing another major issue before the digital world, Mukerji said: "The international management of the internet should be multilateral, transparent and democratic. As a global common, cyber space cannot be managed only as private property. The governance and architecture of internet should reflect its global and democratic nature."
Currently, the US Department of Commerce oversees the internet domain system through the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann), a California-based subcontractor. The domain system it coordinates is the tool that assigns internet addresses. The US has indicated that it would not renew the contract with Icann when it runs out next September. There are several initiatives afoot for an international body to assume the role.