Ministerial Round Table Speakers Spotlight National Efforts, Innovations to Bridge Digital Gender Gap, as Commission on Status of Women Session Continues
‘Women Hold Up Half the Sky’, but Men Rule Digital World, Deputy Secretary-General Says, Calling for Action to Change Outdated Reality
Ministers and other high-level officials spotlighted ways in which their Governments are promoting digital technology, education and innovation for girls and women, while also ensuring online safety to narrow the gap in the gender digital divide, as the Commission on the Status of Women continued its sixty-seventh session today.
The session, which runs from 6 to 17 March, is focused on the theme “Innovation and technological change, and education in the digital age for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls”. (For background, see Press Release WOM/2221.)
The presentations made in ministerial round-table discussions throughout the day focused on two topics: “Good practices in addressing barriers to bridge the gender digital divide and promote education in the digital” and “Fostering inclusive innovation and technological change to empower women and girls and create safer digital spaces”.
Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed, in a pre-recorded message delivered during the final round-table discussion, said women hold up half the sky but men still rule the digital world. It is time to change this outdated reality through four areas of action: equitable access, digital skills, managing the risks of being online, and inclusive innovation. Stressing that closing the gender digital divide and fostering inclusive innovation will not only benefit women and girls, she pointed out that the loss of $1 trillion from gross domestic product of low-and middle-income countries over the past decade translates into billions of dollars in lost taxes and investments in public services. More so, the #MeToo movement demonstrated that women and girls also can launch digital activism. She called for a surge in national policies that support women in the digital world.
Lindiwe Zulu, Minister for Development of South Africa, in opening remarks as Chair for the first round-table discussion on good practices, said lack of access or insufficient skills to enter the digital world is a growing hurdle for women to gain access to digital services or for women entrepreneurs to gain access to new markets and greater profits. Transitions towards sustainability and digitalization have the potential to create millions of decent employment opportunities, but current skills gaps and stereotypes must be addressed, she underscored.
Speaking in her national capacity, she noted her country’s various efforts to advance women and girls. It is working very closely with institutions of higher learning, as well as with organizations involved in innovation and technology through public-private partnerships. Further, a dedicated platform was created for the reporting of gender-based violence and assists in tracking cases within the criminal justice system, including in the rural justice system. To support women in agriculture and technological innovation, Naspers Labs provides funding for female small, medium and micro enterprises in technology.
In the ensuing presentations, speakers highlighted legislation, research, education initiatives, and digital services, among others, as key tools to bridge the gender digital divide. They also underscored the importance of early education not only to equip the youth with digital knowledge and skills but also to break down stereotypes and positively influence attitudes towards women and girls.
Luka Mesec, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Labour of Slovenia, said his Government established a ministry for digital transformation this year and in 2022 adopted the promotion of a digital inclusion act. Since 2006, the leading science institute has promoted career paths in science, technology, engineering and mathematics for women. However, State intervention without people believing in the cause is empty and fragile. It took Slovenia until 2022 — more than 70 years after women were granted electoral rights — to elect its first woman president and first woman speaker of parliament. “We cannot wait for 70 years for the wind to change,” he said, urging the international community to raise awareness of positive role models and practices for women’s empowerment and inclusion.
Maja Gojkovic, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Culture of Serbia, underscored that early education dedicated to overcoming gender differences in attitudes and skills are the precondition for success in a world that is constantly adopting new digital solutions. Joining other delegations who highlighted the importance of research, she said her country was among the first to conduct an analysis of unpaid work at home and to introduce gender-responsive budgeting. Moreover, it was the first country outside the European Union to introduce the Gender Equality Index. The topic of the latest index is “Digitalization and the future of work”. It aims to use the gender perspective to observe the digitalization driven changes to the labour market and to determine whether a digital gender gap existed in Serbia.
Manuel Frick, Minister for Social Affairs and Culture of Liechtenstein, said its experimentation laboratory called pepperMINT — MINT standing for mathematics, information technology, natural sciences and technology, aims to help children, especially girls, deepen their interest and knowledge in those fields. Since 2017, almost 20,000 children and youth participated in the laboratory. He voiced hope that the skills they acquire will support their awareness of stereotypes, as well as their empowerment, participation and leadership to help transform the male dominated world of science, technology, engineering and mathematics into a more inclusive and innovative field.
Susanne Raab, Federal Minister for Women, Family, Integration and Media of Austria, in a similar vein, emphasized that digital skills must be learned from an early age. All girls and boys must have a comprehensive understanding of the digital world and how to move safely therein. A new compulsory subject of basic digital education was recently introduced at secondary schools and academic schools’ lower level. Moreover, an education and training initiative ensures that teachers are qualified for that new compulsory subject. She called for continued efforts to tear down walls and break up gender stereotypes, so that all women and girls can fulfil their talent and full potential in the digital age.
Aabha Shrestha, Joint Secretary, Ministry for Women, Children and Senior Citizens of Nepal, said the Digital Nepal Framework aims to increase digital literacy and support the advancement of information and communication technologies. Many women, urban and rural, have been using digital payment platforms for their business. They are using a local digital marketplace to sell their products and services, while also using digital payment methods. She called for promotion of digital remittance for the inclusion of migrants and their families, especially women and girls. Pointing to financial constraints to going digital on every front, she also called for international support via official development assistance, climate finance and foreign direct investments to bridge the gender digital divide and achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Catherine Russell, Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), in her closing remarks for the first round-table discussion, warned that unless and until the international community bridges the gender digital divide, millions of women and girls around the world will remain shut out at great cost to their well-being and their futures, and the futures of entire economies and societies. “Our shared vision is to see that every girl and woman is digitally literate and connected and that every girl and woman can participate fully in the digital world and benefit from technical advancement across all areas of life,” she said, urging Governments, communities and civil society to work together and drive real action.
The Commission then turned to its second round-table discussion topic on fostering innovation and technological change for women’s empowerment and digital safety, with speakers pointing to the various challenges in bridging the gender digital divide and dangers posed by the digital world. Speakers spotlighted legal and policy frameworks, public and private sector partnerships, and access to infrastructure and services as key tools to empower women and ensure online safety and underscored the crucial role of service providers in that regard.
Ekin Deligöz, Parliamentary State Secretary, Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth of Germany, in opening remarks as Chair of the second round-table discussion, pointed out that women are rarely viewed and empowered as technology creators and decision-makers, limiting their ability to build tools that respond to the priorities of women and girls. Moreover, when women and girls access the Internet, they face violence more often than men, deterring their engagement in important online spaces and dialogues.
Speaking in her national capacity, she said her Government’s MINT Action Plan 2.0 aims to attract more women and girls to professions in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. For over 20 years, it has supported Girls’ Day when girls in fifth grade or higher spend an entire day with companies getting acquainted with professions where women are still underrepresented. Since the first Girls’ Day, companies have provided a total of over 2 million places to girls. Germany’s start up strategy promotes female and diverse funding within the digital economy, pushing for equal participation in investment communities of public funds and holding companies. Her Government also financially supports new providers of venture capital funds if they have diverse teams.
Hyun Sook Kim, Minister for Gender and Family of the Republic of Korea, spotlighting her country’s goal of becoming a science and technology powerhouse, said efforts focus on fostering future-oriented talent. However, the share of women in science and technology remains low. Even after entering the sector, women often put their careers on hold due to childbirth and childcare. Industry experience programmes encourage female students to enter the science, technology, engineering and mathematics sector, she said, noting a narrowing gender gap in a number of science majors and a steadily growing number of women in the sector. The Government is striving to fully protect children and youth, with legislation on special cases imposing a harsher punishment for digital sex crimes. Illicit videos are swiftly deleted through the Digital Sexual Crime Victim Support Center, which also proactively monitors and takes down sexually exploitative material involving minors.
Maya Morsy, Minister for Women and President of the National Council for Women of Egypt, said her country, in partnership with UNICEF, conducted a series of focus group discussions with adolescents to better understand how social media and digital gaming influence their safety and well-being. Solid national legislation is in place to address digital safety. Noting that bullying is now criminalized in the penal code, she reported that Egypt has partnered with social media platforms Facebook, Instagram and YouTube to counter bullying and provide online safety resources. Underscoring the need for a comprehensive response integrating women’s online protection within technology and social media policies, she stressed that social media and online platforms must meet their responsibilities to protect women’s and girls’ rights and prevent and remedy abuse of their rights.
Věra Jourová, Commissioner for Values and Transparency and Vice-President of the European Commission of the European Union, joining other delegations, underscored the importance of gender mainstreaming in all policy areas and priorities, including the digital transition, innovation and research and science, technology, engineering and math. The bloc’s proposal for a directive to combat violence against women and domestic violence focuses explicitly on online as well as offline violence. She also highlighted its proposal of European Union-wide criminalization of cyber-based gender violence, as well as measures to quickly remove illegal gender based online content. Its Digital Services Act sets out a comprehensive approach towards all forms of illegal content and aims at reaching safety, accountability and transparency.
Lucia Mafuiane, Member of Parliament of Mozambique, said that in her country female entrepreneurship has registered in recent years the increase of formal financial inclusion. That led the Government to approve the National Strategy for Financial Inclusion aimed at increasing accessibility to financial services, especially for rural populations and the most vulnerable groups. In February, a Digital Gender Toolkit was launched to provide the market with the necessary tools to increase access and use of digital financial services for women and girls, with the support of the Mozambique Regulatory Authority for Communications as a strategic partner not only facilitating intermediation with telecommunication service providers but also to ensuring the right regulatory environment in the communications sector.
Tetyana Berezhna, Deputy Minister for Economy of Ukraine, in regard to the attacks by the Russian Federation, said that while 61,000 Ukrainian women have joined the Ukrainian army, others are fighting on the economic front. The Government is making every effort to ensure that, despite the war and through inclusive innovation and technological change, women have digital access to education, employment, business resources and social services. Detailing its various efforts, she said the Government’s relocation program enables women entrepreneurs to apply online to relocate their businesses to safe territories within Ukraine. In a year, more than 100 enterprises were relocated and more than 35,000 jobs were saved. Through the online application Diia, meaning “action”, Ukrainian women can receive assistance and obtain internally displaced person status, get social assistance for children with disabilities and child support for single mothers. “Our enemy thinks that the war can make Ukrainians helpless […] it is deeply mistaken,” she said, pointing out that the conflict has forced the Government to implement even more creative digital solutions to strengthen Ukrainian women.
Cristiana Camarate Silveira Martins Leão Quinalia, Superintendent Of The Consumer Affairs Bureau, ANATEL [Agência Nacional de Telecomunicações/National Telecommunications Agency] of Brazil, said Brazil’s auction of 5G frequencies aimed at guaranteeing connectivity. The Government invested the equivalent $600 million in the connectivity of public schools to bring not only infrastructure, but also to provide educational material and devices. The telecommunications regulator is leading a large cooperation network to carry out this initiative, she said, underlining the importance of different forms of financing and cooperation to generate different programs in the use of information and communications technology, particularly by women and girls.
Åsa Regnér, Deputy Executive Director for Policy, Programme, Civil Society and Intergovernmental Support of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women), in closing remarks on the second round-table discussion, underscored that the international community will never be able to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development if it does not take collective action or integrate a gender perspective in technology or innovation across all areas. “We need strong commitments from Governments and the private sector to design technologies which respect human rights by default rather than permit abuse or exploitation as part of their business models.” Also needed are investments in women’s organizations and civil society so they can advocate and influence important processes, she said.
The Commission continued its round-table discussions on the same two topics in the afternoon, with Zulphar Sarkhad, Vice-Minister for Labour and Social Protection of Mongolia, and Paulina Calderón, Secretary of State for Policies on Equality and Diversity, Ministry of Women, Genders and Diversity of Argentina, serving as Chairs.
Also speaking today were ministers and senior officials of France, Morocco, United Kingdom, Luxembourg, Ireland, Italy, Armenia, Gambia, Sierra Leone, Jordan, State of Palestine, Rwanda, Indonesia, Zimbabwe, Bahamas, Zambia, Switzerland, Finland, Kenya, Belgium, Paraguay, Chile, Mozambique, Eritrea, Malta, Maldives, Ukraine, Canada, New Zealand, Netherlands, Liberia, Namibia, Sudan, Panama, Botswana, Ecuador, Lithuania, Philippines, Czech Republic, Bangladesh, United Republic of Tanzania, China, Georgia, Croatia, Hungary, Japan, Kyrgyzstan, Greece, Mexico, Timor-Leste, Burundi, United Arab Emirates, Côte d’Ivoire, Niger, Sweden, Kazakhstan, Fiji, Peru, Kuwait, Norway, Singapore, Antigua and Barbuda, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Belarus, Australia, Barbados, Dominican Republic, Trinidad and Tobago, Uzbekistan, Angola and Kiribati.
The Commission on the Status of Women will reconvene at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, 8 March, to continue its general discussion.