While Transforming the World, Digital Technology ‘Can Only Do Half the Job’ Without Women, Deputy Secretary-General Tells Round Table Event
(Delayed in Transmission)
Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed’s remarks at the ministerial-level round table at the sixty-seventh session of the Commission on the Status of Women, held on 7 March:
Women hold up half the sky — but men still rule the digital world. It is time to change this outdated reality, starting with four areas for action.
First, change begins with equitable access. Women are 21 per cent less likely than men to be online; in least developed countries, this gap rises to 52 per cent.
This deprives women and girls from participating in online education and other activities. It means they are unable to access information, benefit from mobile services like banking and health care, and express themselves online.
Unless we close the digital gender gap, women will be left farther behind as societies reap the benefits of technological advances.
Second, digital skills. Women and girls are 25 per cent less likely than men to have the basic knowledge and skills needed to use digital technology. They are systematically excluded from science and math throughout their education, limiting their access to jobs in these areas.
Women make up only 28 per cent of the workforce in science, technology, engineering and math, and will remain underrepresented in this fast-growing sector unless we take action.
As the African proverb says: “If you educate a girl, you educate a nation.” I call on all Member States to prioritize science and math education for girls.
Third, we must manage the risks of being online. Girls and women, including politicians and journalists, are often targeted for online harassment and abuse. This prevents them from participating in political dialogue and holding decision-makers accountable.
Governments, private companies and civil society must come together to push back against gender-based violence and sexist hate speech facilitated by technology.
The United Nations is working with a wide range of actors to advance a code of conduct for information integrity on digital platforms. The goal is to reduce harm and increase accountability while defending the right to freedom of expression.
Finally, we need inclusive innovation. The digital world runs on algorithms — but those algorithms are often based on data that excludes women and girls. That means discrimination is built in from the start.
Datasets for training algorithms must be inclusive and diverse, reflecting the society we want.
Women entrepreneurs are already pushing the frontiers of innovation. We must support them and unleash their full power if we are to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
Closing the digital gender divide and fostering inclusive innovation will not only benefit women and girls. Exclusion hurts everyone.
It is estimated that women’s exclusion from the digital world has taken $1 trillion from the gross domestic product (GDP) of low- and middle-income countries over the past decade. This lost productivity translates to billions of dollars in lost taxes and investments in public services.
Digital technology is a force multiplier for sustainable development. But it can only do half the job without the full participation of women and girls.
We know women and girls are up to the task. They have already launched an inspiring model of digital activism — the #MeToo movement, which is still reverberating. And in many developing countries, girls are challenging stereotypes and taking up computer science in large numbers.
For their sake, I hope your deliberations on this vital theme lead to concrete change.
We need a surge in national policies and initiatives to eliminate the gender digital divide, invest in skills training for women and girls, create a safe online environment and promote inclusive innovation.
There is no time to lose.