‘Women Are Leading the Charge’ to Make Digital Technology Inclusive, Better Regulated, Secretary-General Says in Message to International Day Event
Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks, as delivered by Courtenay Rattray, Chef de Cabinet, to the International Women’s Day Event: DigitAll: Innovation and Technology for Gender Equality, in New York today:
It is my pleasure to join you today, on behalf of the Secretary-General, for the celebration of the International Women’s Day under the theme of “DigitALL: Innovation & Technology for Gender Equality”.
It is a pleasure to join you as we celebrate International Women’s Day 2023. This year, we focus attention on the need for technology and innovation to advance gender equality. There is no question that technology is reshaping life as we know it.
But there is a huge question over whether it does so for better — or worse. And the answer depends in large part on technology’s impact on half the world’s population.
Technology can lift the lives of women and girls around the world in myriad ways — from greater access to education, health care, and financial services, to new pathways into business and entrepreneurship.
But to realize the promise of technology, we must confront its perils. And that means action in three areas. First, action to close the connectivity gap. Today, 3 billion people are still unconnected to the internet — the majority of them women and girls in developing countries. We must break down the barriers that keep women and girls offline.
These include stereotypes that discourage girls from studying science and maths from an early age; low levels of education and training in digital skills; lack of access to digital devices, data, and job opportunities. We must connect everyone, everywhere by 2030 — because leaving no one behind means leaving no one offline.
Second, we need women’s leadership to advance change. Today, women make up less than one third of the workforce across science, technology, engineering, and maths. And in cutting edge fields like artificial intelligence, just one in five professionals is a woman.
We must increase women’s participation and leadership in these fields — through broader recruitment pipelines, using quotas if necessary. Without women’s leadership, the Silicon Valleys of this world don’t disrupt the patriarchy; they simply digitize sexism and perpetuate inequalities.
And without women’s contributions, tomorrow’s digital products and services will have gender inequality built into their code, right from the start. Science and technology should be objective and address bias. But today, because of incomplete data and poorly designed algorithms, they may make bias worse. We must ensure broader participation in the design of technologies — with human rights at the heart.
And third, we must make the online world safe for women and girls. Many parts of the Internet are becoming toxic amplifiers of hate, abuse, and harassment — and the number one targets are women and girls. Digital technologies have provided new tools to control, harm, silence, and discredit women — including those in the public eye.
Online mob violence is a direct attack on democracy and is effectively censoring women, hounding them from office, and blunting girls’ ambition to step up as leaders. We need action to create a safe digital environment and hold harassers, abusers and the digital platforms that enable them to account.
That is why I have called on Governments, regulators, technology companies and the media to stop the hate, set up guardrails, and enforce them. And it is why we are working to advance a Code of Conduct for information integrity on digital platforms.
The good news is that women are leading the charge to make technology safer, more accessible, more inclusive, and better regulated. And across the Global South and North, more and more girls are rejecting archaic stereotypes and studying to become the scientific pioneers of tomorrow.
The United Nations is proud to stand with women and girls everywhere in breaking down the barriers that hold all of us back. From UN-Women’s Action Coalition on Technology and Innovation to UNICEF’s Skills4Girls programme and other initiatives, we are mobilizing to advance women leadership in science and technology.
Together, let’s push for big, structural, transformative change and deliver on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Together, let’s realize a more inclusive, just, and prosperous world for women and girls, men and boys, everywhere. Thank you.