Our lives depend on strong technological integration: attending a course, calling loved ones, making a bank transaction, or booking a medical appointment. Everything currently goes through a digital process. However, 37% of women do not use the internet. Even though they account for nearly half the world’s population, 259 million fewer women have access to the Internet than men.
If women are unable to access the Internet and do not feel safe online, they are unable to develop the necessary digital skills to engage in digital spaces, which diminishes their opportunities to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) related fields. By 2050, 75% of jobs will be related to STEM areas and yet today, women hold just 22% of positions in artificial intelligence, to name just one field.
Bringing women into technology results in more creative solutions and has greater potential for innovations that meet women’s needs and promote gender equality. Their lack of inclusion, by contrast, comes with massive costs.
DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality
On this International Women’s Day, 8 March 2023, join UN Women and the United Nations in celebrating under the theme DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality. This day recognises and celebrates the women and girls who are championing the advancement of transformative technology and digital education. The observance also aims to explore the impact of the digital gender gap on widening economic and social inequalities, and it will spotlight the importance of protecting the rights of women and girls in digital spaces and addressing online and ICT-facilitated gender-based violence.
In his message to mark the day, UN Secretary-General António Guterres stresses that “technology can expand pathways to education and opportunities for women and girls (…) but it can also be used to amplify abuse and hatred. Today, women make up under a third of the workforce in science, technology, engineering, and maths and when women are under-represented in developing new technologies, discrimination may be baked in from the start. That is why we must close the digital divide and increase the representation of women and girls in science and technology.”
According to UN Women, women’s exclusion from the digital world has shaved an estimated $1 trillion from the GDP of low- and middle-income countries in the last decade — a loss that could grow to $1.5 trillion by 2025 without action.
From the earliest days of computing to the present age of virtual reality and artificial intelligence, women have made untold contributions to the digital world in which we increasingly live. Their accomplishments have been against all odds, in a field that has historically neither welcomed nor appreciated them.
Today, a persistent gender gap in digital access keeps women from unlocking technology’s full potential. Their underrepresentation in STEM education and careers remains a major barrier to their participation in tech design and governance. And the pervasive threat of online gender-based violence—coupled with a lack of legal recourse—too often forces them out of the digital spaces they do occupy.
Commission on the Status of Women
The 67th annual Commission on the Status of Women (CSW67), the UN’s largest annual gathering on gender equality and women’s empowerment, is taking place from 6 – 17 March under the theme, “Innovation and technological change, and education in the digital age for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls”.
The digital age is creating new and unprecedented opportunities to improve the lives of women and girls around the world. Digital technologies are rapidly transforming all spheres of life, including our economic, social, and political systems—establishing new entrance points and platforms for historically marginalised groups.
It is also creating unprecedented threats to their wellbeing. Online spaces provide new venues for violence against women, offering perpetrators increased anonymity and impunity. Discrimination in the tech sector and bias in automated systems themselves perpetuate and further entrench gender inequalities. A lack of global laws and regulations leaves vulnerable groups further exposed to rights and privacy violations.
CSW67 provides a unique chance to shape our digital future for the better. Over the next two weeks, governments, civil society organisations, experts, and activists from around the world will unite to face the challenges—and further the enormous potential—held by technology for the empowerment of all women and girls. Click here for more information.