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UN’s International Telecommunications Union gets a woman leader for the first time

Doreen Bogdan Martin

Doreen Bogdan-Martin of the US became the first woman to head International Telecommunications Union. Martin defeated Russia’s Rashid Ismailov by convincing 139 to 25 in a vote to decide who will lead the UN’s telecommunications organization, which was established in 1865 and became a United Nations specialized agency in 1947.

Ismailov received only 25 votes. He is a former deputy minister at Russia’s Ministry of Telecom and Mass Communication and has also worked for Huawei. Martin will replace China’s Houlin Zhao as leader of the United Nations whose term is ending in December this year.

The high-level election took place during ITU’s Plenipotentiary Conference (PP-22) in Bucharest, Romania, with representatives of Member States voting during the meeting’s morning session. After winning the elections, Bogdan-Martin tweeted on Thursday. “Humbled & honoured to be elected @ITU Secretary-General & grateful for the trust & confidence Member States placed in me.”

The ITU is the oldest UN organization, even older than the UN itself. It was established to standardize a developing telegraph system internationally. This term’s election reflected broader ideological divides over the future of the internet. Martin’s win over chief rival Rashid Ismailov is significant in the backdrop of wider US-Russia tensions over the Ukraine war and fears of growing censorship on the internet.

What is International Telecommunications Union?

In terms of its membership, the International Telecommunications Union differs significantly from other UN bodies. ITU has close to 900 representatives from the IT sector and academia, including 193 member states of the UN.

The working of ITU mainly comprises three sectors- Radiocommunication (ITU-R), Telecommunication Standardization ( ITU-T ), and Telecommunication Development (ITU-D). The international body globally regulates electronic communication and broadcasting technologies. It also conducts events to address current and future issues and resolve disputes regarding existing and emerging technologies. Every four years, ITU holds an exhibition and forum known as the Global TELECOM.

ITU also work toward helping emerging countries to establish and develop telecommunication systems of their own. The body’s purpose is to maintain an effective international electronic communication environment, however, its recommendations are non-binding. It does not bring people together to improve connectivity and setting standards but has the ability to shape the telecoms landscape internationally.

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