Johanna Weaver, Special Adviser to Australia’s Ambassador for Cyber Affairs, Australia

By Yun Xuan Poon

Women in GovTech Special Report 2020.

Johanna Weaver is also Australia’s Head of Delegation to Open Ended Working Group on Cyber, and Australia’s representative to UN Group of Experts on Cyber.

How do you use technology/policy to improve citizens’ lives? Tell us about your role or organisation. 

I am Australia’s lead negotiator in two processes at the United Nations negotiating the rules of the road for countries in cyberspace. The international laws and norms that govern relations between countries have evolved over centuries. In the physical world there are clear understandings about how the legal and normative framework applies. While from time to time countries in the physical world still act contrary to their international obligations, there are generally consequences when they do. We are increasingly seeing countries doing things in cyberspace that they would not do – or would not do without consequences – in the physical world.

The UN negotiations are about deepening understanding of how the rules, norms and principles apply in cyberspace. We have a solid base on which to build, countries have already agreed that existing international law applies to state conduct in cyberspace, complemented by 11 norms of responsible state behavior, supported by confidence building measures and coordinated capacity building. It is vital to remember, however, that negotiating these agreements at the UN is only one side of the coin. The other side of the coin is to hold countries to account when they violate the agreed rules in cyberspace. Given the now interdependent cyber and physical worlds, and the ongoing rise of malicious cyber activity with direct harms in the material world, our objective – to preserve a peaceful and stable cyberspace – has never been more important.

What was the most impactful project you worked on this year? 

Without question it is the Women in International Security and Cyberspace Fellowship. Despite being as impacted – or more impacted – by malicious cyber activity than men, women are significantly underrepresented in the UN negotiations on the rules of the road for countries in cyberspace. I envisaged the Fellowship as a way to address that imbalance. It has been exponentially rewarding to see the Australian, UK, Dutch, New Zealand and Canadian Foreign Ministries combine forces this year to support 35 women from all around the world travel to New York to receive training, mentorship and to directly participate in the UN negotiations. The Fellowship has continued well beyond the initial meeting in New York, evolving with the Covid-19 pandemic, with tailored virtual training, mentoring and regular exchanges of views among the fellows. The WiC Fellowship directly and positively impacted the negotiations, and measurably so: in February there was gender parity in UN decisions on these issues for the first time, ever. The Fellowship has enriched and inspired all those involved, including myself!

What is one unexpected learning from 2020? 

The Covid-19 pandemic has presented unprecedented challenges. I won’t dwell on this, as many of us are still in the midst of living them now. For me, however, it has also bought the unexpected pleasure of being grounded in Australia. After an initial period of adjustment, I have enjoyed having time to reconnect with my family and my local community in ways that my tempo of frequent travel previously inhibited. I’ve started to cook again, and planted – or, perhaps even more surprisingly, kept alive - a herb garden. Yesterday, I picked up a guitar for the first time in 15 years. It felt good.

What are your priorities for 2021?

If 2020 has taught me anything; it is to expect the unexpected. Professionally, my overall priority in 2021 is to harness uncertainty; to take it as an opportunity to pause and reflect, and then strategically drive change. Personally, I will continue to prioritise connection and community, as well as cooking and chords.

What advice would you give to women looking to start a career in GovTech?  

From a purely practical point of view, a shift to the cyber, digital or technology fields is a sound career move; there is already a skills shortage, and demand will only increase.  More importantly for me, as this field is rapidly evolving, a career working on these issues doesn’t mean going through the motions or preserving the status quo. Technology now shapes every aspect of our world. But too often it is forgotten that humans shape technology. A career in this field positions you to shape the future. What could be more motivating that that? Come join us!