Women and International Security in Cyberspace Fellowship


Women and International Security in Cyberspace Fellowship

Country: United KingdomNew ZealandThe NetherlandsCanadaAustralia

Reach: Global

Theme: Cyber diplomacyGender

Focus: Capacity building

Target groups: Women

Dominant genes: DiversityPolitical importanceOrganisational capacity

DNA sequence info: DICRTPAMFO

The challenge

As recognised by the Women, Peace and Security agenda, women are differently and uniquely affected by conflict and threats to international peace and security. In addition, they bring unique perspectives and contributions to international negotiations, conflict resolution and peacebuilding activities.

However, women are still underrepresented on multilateral fora that deal with international security. As the 2019 report by the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Affairs (UNIDIR), Still Behind the Curve, shows, the UN First Committee – responsible for arms control, non-proliferation and disarmament – has the lowest proportion of women diplomats of any of the UN General Assembly’s Main Committees.

Multilateral discussions on international security issues related to responsible state behaviour in cyberspace are no exception. And the gender gap in discussions such as those of the UN Group of Governmental Experts (UN GGE) or the UN Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) on the use of ICTs in the context of international security undermines the effectiveness and legitimacy of the outcomes of these processes.

Women are discriminated against also in day-to-day use of the Internet. Although the number of Internet users grew on average by 10% every year from 2005 to 2019, the proportion of women using the Internet globally is 48%, compared to 58% of men. In relative terms, the global Internet user gap is 17% and although the digital gender gap decreased in Europe in the period 2013–2019, it increased significantly in the Americas, Asia-Pacific, Arab states, Africa and developing countries. Worldwide, the user gender gap has increased from 11% to 17% in the past six years. Furthermore, women represent less than 25% of the cybersecurity workforce.

A response

To address this need, the governments of Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, New Zealand and the United Kingdom have developed the Women and International Security in Cyberspace Fellowship (WiC), which promotes greater participation of women in discussions at the United Nations on international security issues related to responsible state behaviour in cyberspace. Current fellows come from Fiji, Indonesia, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Samoa, Thailand, Vanuatu and Vietnam.

Thanks to the Fellowship, 35 women diplomats representing countries from ASEAN, Asia Pacific, South America and the Commonwealth were able to participate in the meetings of the UN OEWG on the use of ICTs in the context of international security. Fellows also receive training from the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) on multilateral negotiations, participate in an introduction to issues relevant to international security in cyberspace, and receive mentoring from senior colleagues working on these issues at the UN in New York.

The impact

The WiC has already brought concrete results. In February 2020, during the second substantive session of the OEWG in New York, 54% of delegations included at least one woman with a speaking role. Globally, 42% of all interventions were made by women, and 15% of them were made by Fellows of the WiC. This was the first time that gender balance was achieved in a UN First Committee Process.

Furthermore, Fellows participating in the UN meetings and attending the courses take their knowledge back to their own countries and drive gender conversations across their own governments. This allows positive spill-overs and the promotion of gender balance in the cyber domain at all levels. In addition, the project has provided an important community-building function and a support network among fellows.

Project DNA


Which aspects of this project have contributed to its success? And which, according to the implementing organisations, might play an important role in launching similar initiatives in other parts of the world? The project DNA profiling on the basis of the Good Cyber Stories framework highlighted the importance of three success genes in particular:


D – Diversity

Diversity is the very core of the project. Participation of women from different career paths (diplomats, academics, think tankers, civil society representatives), ages and religions allows the implementing countries to raise awareness of the importance of cyber-related topics in different groups. As well as the diversity of perspectives that the Fellows bring, diversity in policies is also one of the project’s goals. Diverse participation translates into policies that are more representative of the citizens’ differences, are more legitimate and more effective, and last longer.


I – Political importance

Political attention to the problem of inequality and women’s underrepresentation in the international debates is of paramount importance for the success of the project. Thanks to the political leadership of the five funding countries, the importance of closing the gender gap in cyber-related debates became one of the priorities for the international community. By supporting the fellows in their countries of origin, the project creates ‘champions’ capable of making change in their direct environment as well as at national and local levels.


C – Organisational capacity

The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Global Affairs Canada, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade of New Zealand and the UK’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office have partnered to support the Fellowship. In addition, the project benefits from the support of UNITAR, which provides training on multilateral negotiations, and from the broader network of senior diplomats at the UN, who provide the Fellows with mentoring on the UN negotiation processes.

The initiative can be easily replicated at national, regional and international levels wherever women are underrepresented in the discussions about cybersecurity or various aspects of cyber diplomacy. In fact, several countries have launched similar initiatives aimed at promoting greater involvement of women in cyber-related policymaking, including Women4Cyber Registry by the European Union.