A new kind of poverty now confronts the world, one that excludes women and girls in devastating ways—that of digital poverty, Sima Bahous, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, said when opening a meeting with the UN Commission on the Status of Women. The ten day long meeting is about priorities for gender equality with a focus on technological change and education.
“Our challenge is not to train more women or distribute mobile handsets. Rather, it is to fix the institutions and the harmful gender stereotypes surrounding technology and innovation that fail women and girls.”
- Close the gender digital divide. Every member of society, especially the most marginalized, must have equal access to digital skills and services. Digital services, especially e-government services, must be tailored and accessible for all women and girls.
- Invest in digital, science and technology education for girls and women.
- Ensure jobs and leadership positions for women in the tech and innovation sectors. That burden lies in large part on the leaders of the technology sector.
- Ensure transparency and accountability of digital technology. By design, technology must be safe, inclusive, affordable, and accessible. This includes ensuring that unconscious or conscious bias is not embedded into new technologies and in the field of artificial intelligence.
- Place the principles of inclusion, intersectionality, and systemic change at the core of digitalization. If women are not included among technology and artificial intelligence creators, or decision-makers, digital products will not reflect the priorities of women and girls.
- Confront misinformation head on, and we must work with men and boys to foster ethical and responsible online behaviour and make equality a cornerstone of digital citizenship.
- Make the necessary effort and investment to ensure that online spaces are free of violence and abuse, with mechanisms and clear accountability to tackle all forms of harassment and discrimination and hate speech.
“The digital divide has become the new face of gender inequality, which is being compounded by the pushback against women and girls that we see in the world today.”
She stressed that the digital revolution presents unprecedented opportunities for women and girls. At the very same time, it has also given rise to profound new challenges, compounding gender inequalities in severe ways.
“ Women are 18% less likely than men to own a smartphone, and far less likely to access or use the Internet. This past year alone, 259 million more men than women were online. Only 28% of engineering graduates and 22% of artificial intelligence workers globally are women, despite girls matching boys’ performance in science and technology subjects across many countries.”
She pointed out that in the technology sector globally, women not only occupy fewer positions, but they also face a gender pay gap of 21%.
“Nearly half of all women working in technology have faced workplace harassment.”
“We must also squarely face the threats to the safety and well-being of girls that technology can present when abused. Even where they enjoy access to digital tools and services, discrimination has taken a foothold and continues to find new ways to deny them their rights.”
“Research has shown that 80% of children in 25 countries reported feeling in danger of sexual abuse and exploitation when online, with adolescent girls the most vulnerable.
“A survey of women journalists from 125 countries found that three-quarters had experienced online violence in the course of their work and a third had self-censored in response.”
“The digital revolution offers the potential for unprecedented improvement in the lives of women and girls. We must not spurn it”, Bahous said.