Report on the “Women in Cyber Capacity Building” Session

Report | GFCE V-Meeting “Women in Cyber Capacity Building” | 7 May 2020

The aim of this GFCE V-Meeting session was dedicated to celebrating women in the Cyber Capacity Building community, by sharing their achievements and experiences as well as discussing areas of opportunities for encouraging women communities to become even more involved in CCB processes and how the GFCE can facilitate this.


The session began with Ms. Carmen Gonsalves, GFCE Co-Chair and Head of International Cyber Policy at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, introducing this initiative to the participants, which first started during the GFCE Annual Meeting 2019 in Addis Ababa, where women from different working backgrounds shared their experiences in CCB with the GFCE Community. Ms. Gonsalves was heartened by the participants’ enthusiasm for this initiative and their willingness to take it even further under the umbrella of the GFCE. Ms Gonsalves, after introducing the agenda of the session, highlighted a few key-questions for the session, focusing on what are the needs of women involved in CCB in different countries that ought to be addressed, and which CCB gaps are important and need to be closed, by pointing out the role that the GFCE can play in order to foster these needs globally.

After Ms. Carmen Gonsalves, the floor was given to Ms. Inge Bryan, Secretary of the GFCE Foundation Board and Partner with Cyber Risk Services and Public Policy Leader in Deloitte, who pointed out the need of having a network of women working in similar or different cyber security professions. Ms. Bryan highlighted the need of building a community of trust, by being able to reach out to one another in order to share ideas and dilemmas and offer solutions. This women network, which already exists in the Netherlands, can be extended to the GFCE community, by including more women from all generations, from different background careers, who will be able to benefit from this community through mentorship opportunities in building their careers. Ms. Bryan ended her intervention by highlighting that one of the initiatives of the existing Dutch female network, was to assist the health sector regarding cyber-attacks due to Covid-19.

After the introductory remarks from Ms. Carmen Gonsalves and Ms. Inge Bryan, the session was divided into two different parts: the first part included women speakers sharing their experiences and overcoming obstacles while being involved in CCB projects, with the second part focusing on discussing the areas of opportunities to encourage women to get even more involved in CCB projects and initiatives looking at what the GFCE role could be in facilitating this.

Sharing experiences and overcoming obstacles

The first presentation, by Dr. Katherine Getao, Chief Executive Officer of the ICT Authority in Kenya, started with an overview of the reasons why there are few women involved in the field of cyber security and cyber capacity building in Kenya. First of all, there is a lack of educational awareness regarding this field given to young girls when they choose what career they desire to follow in their lives. Secondly, as cyber security is at premium in Kenya, women involved in this domain are not fully aware of the different career paths that they can follow in this field, and only a few of them get involved in the CCB domain. Thirdly, young female professionals lack assertiveness in the working environment and are not encouraged to stand up for themselves and their professional achievements. Dr. Getao not only highlighted the need for celebrating women’s achievements and contributions, especially as part of the UN GGE, towards global security in the area of ICT and cyber capacity building, but also pointed out the importance of training women at the highest level, giving them opportunities to build confidence in order to be pushed to achieve more in the field, get strategic positions, and acquire the visibility they need to progress and show their actual contribution to cyber security and capacity building.

The second speaker, Ms. Kaja Ciglic, Senior Director of Digital Diplomacy at Microsoft, started by pointing out how much the perceptions toward women in the working environments, still differ a lot among various countries. Ms. Ciglic shared Microsoft’s focus on empowering women in the working field, not only by achieving gender balance in all domains, but also by ensuring that women are being promoted to leadership positions. By highlighting the importance of creating a network where women of the field can share their positive experiences and celebrate their achievements, Ms. Ciglic pointed out the importance of showing that cyber security is not only a technical field, but includes several non-technical domains and opportunities for women to get involved, learn, and effectively innovate in this field.

Ms. Kerry-Ann Barrett, Cybersecurity Policy Specialist in the Organization of American States (OAS) took the floor next, sharing a regional perspective of the CCB field and naming the steps that OAS has taken regarding gender equality. More specifically, in 1928, the Inter-American Commission of Women (CIM) was established to ensure recognition of women’s human rights and to fight for gender equality. Ms. Barrett, mentioned that all projects from OAS, include and highlight gender related issues, while in 2017, OAS recognized the Declaration on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment for the Good of Humanity. Also, in 2018, OAS partnered with Trend Micro and launched the “OAS Cyberwomen Challenge”, an initiative focused on developing cybersecurity skills of women throughout Latin America by encouraging them to contribute more to a security environment. Ms. Barrett introduced another OAS initiative during the UN OEWG process, where the organization worked with Canada to identify key women in Latin America and the Caribbean, to benefit from the “Women in International Security and Cyberspace Policy”. These women got specific training from UNITAR on being able to actively participate in the negotiating process of the UN OEWG. Another initiative, which also falls under the GFCE umbrella is the Gender Forum, holding regional meetings and bringing together powerful women in the region to discuss aspects of digital security. Ms. Barrett ended her intervention by pointing out the challenges that women are facing online, and, addressing this issue, that CIM has published a white paper that focuses on combating online violence against women.

Areas of Opportunitie

Ms. Folake Olagunju, Program Officer of Internet and Cybersecurity at ECOWAS, stated that in the West-African region, cyber security is still viewed as a technical field. Ms. Olagunju pointed out that with the help of the GFCE, women can show that they are able to bring a different perspective and skillset on the field of cybersecurity, a field which offers more career developments and impacts social and economic development. As an example, Ms. Olagunju talked about the Minister of Communications in Ghana, who has managed to be surrounded by a dynamic technical team, and she has been able to bring cyber security in the international and national scene and has made a difference and contribution in the region for Ghana. Ms. Olagunju stated that an important opportunity for the GFCE is to promote availability, accessibility and affordability of career developments in cyber security; this can be facilitated by promoting international collaboration and encouraging national cooperation, so that a network can be built which will provide a forum for discussing the challenges that women face both in the south and in the north.

Ms. Cherie Lagakali, Board Secretary for Pacific Islands Chapter of Internet Society (PICISOC) took the floor next, sharing with the participants her experiences and struggles working as a programmer in a mostly male dominated field. Ms. Lagakali, stated that getting involved in the field of cyber capacity building was a fresh start, where she was given a wider range of opportunities in information sharing which she was able to incorporate in her working community. She also talked about her experience from participating in a cyber capacity building regional meeting in Papua New-Guinea, where people from other Pacific Islands got together and shared their experiences and difficulties in the domain of cyber security. Ms. Lagakali ended her presentation by suggesting a mentorship program for the Pacific to build a network where people can reach out to each other for support, empowering one another to act on a local level.

The last intervention was delivered by Ms. Daniela Schnidrig, Senior Program Lead at Global Partners Digital, who talked about the importance to shift to a gender sensitive approach in cyber capacity building, having a strong commitment to addressing the gender gap in a holistic way. Ms. Schnidrig highlighted the need to mainstream gender issues in all projects, by pointing out gender opportunities and implications. In addition, she also stressed the importance of working closely with funders in order to help embed gender diversity as a priority in cyber programs. Ms. Schnidrig stated that one of the most important aspects is to strengthen research on this topic and talked about a recent report from the Association for Progressive Communications, which included research on how network shutdowns have a disproportioned impact on women and people with different gender identities. Her intervention closed by pointing out the need to think of how to take current good practices on CCB further, and the fact that, the GFCE can facilitate this deliverable by providing its platform for open dialogue on the field and by providing mentorship opportunities.

Way forward

The session ended with different suggestions on how the GFCE can facilitate taking this initiative forward and contribute to creating a network, where female cyber security experts can connect, share ideas and experiences, share problems and struggles and find solutions. All participants emphasized the importance of building a community of trust, and the need to be able to openly share practices on the implementation of cyber capacity building projects and initiatives. The GFCE Secretariat has already collected relevant materials from this session and will continue to gather other relevant material on this topic in order to implement this network.