Gender-Based Data Crucial for Developing Intersectional Digital Spheres Reflecting Women’s, Girls’ Identities, Lives, Speakers Tell Commission
Strong legislative, policy and institutional frameworks rooted in gender-based data are critical not only to empower women and girls on digital platforms, but ensure those platforms have an intersectional lens that appropriately represent the full range of identities, speakers told the Commission on the Status of Women as it continued its sixty-seventh session.
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.)
Antje Leendertse (Germany), Commission Chair-designate, opening the interactive expert panel, said digitalization has often been portrayed as an equalizer of opportunities. However, it has continued a pattern of genderblind innovation already seen in the analogue world. The differences observed within and across countries require adopting an intersectional lens to examine the impact on different groups of women, she said.
Alison Gillwald of South Africa, Executive Director of Research, ICT Africa, said that despite gender and digitalization being priority issues on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, there is only very patchy gender data for evidence-based digital policy formulation. Without this data there is little way of assessing the progress being made towards the Sustainable Development Goals and the information and communications technology sub-targets that underpin them.
Nino Enukidze of Georgia, Rector of the Business and Technology University of Georgia, said technology must be made affordable for women and girls through programmes, scholarships and grants that could be funded by public and private partnerships as well as donor organizations. A flagship programme “500 Women in Tech”, with the support of UN-Women Georgia and the Government of Norway, is providing free training to 500 women across the country. The more than 50 partner companies have already offered the women graduates paid internships or full-time jobs, she reported.
Elisa Lindinger of Germany, Co-Founder and Managing Director of SUPERRR Lab, said class, race, disability, age, location, and gender identity all result in particular needs that digital technology must fulfil for it to be usable for all women and gender nonconforming people. More granular research is needed, she said, adding that the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) toolkit for mainstreaming and implementing gender equality provides starting points on how to work responsibly with gender-disaggregated data.
Anita Gurumurthy of India, Executive Director of IT for Change, warned that artificial intelligence (AI) system development that fails to account for the social status differentiation produced by the intersectional operations of gender power could lead to a range of adverse impacts on the ground, including lower quality of services for women and non-binary individuals. There needs to be a recognition of whose rights are implicated in the use of data and whose needs are being met by data and AI innovation, she said.
Reem Alsalem, United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, its causes and consequences, noted that technology-facilitated gender-based violence has become one of the most accessible tools used by perpetrators, adding that Internet platforms have a high tolerance for gendered violence, as opposed to other kinds of harassment, including hate speech or incitement to discrimination and violence. Moreover, legislation loopholes tend to aid and abet such discrimination, she said, urging States to publicly condemn and duly investigate smear campaigns against women, while also criminalizing any such behaviour.
Mónica Roqué, General Secretary of Human Rights, Community Gerontology, Gender and Care Policies of the National Institute of Social Services for Retirees and Pensioners of Argentina, reported that women live six years longer than men, but in worse conditions, suffering more from poverty, disease, disabilities and violence. The use of technologies by older persons is guaranteed as a human right in article 20 of the Inter-American Convention on the Protection of Human Rights of Older Persons, she said, stressing that the digital divide suffered by older women must be placed on national and international agendas.
In the ensuing interactive dialogue, speakers from Member States, civil society and non-governmental organizations shared their national experiences and efforts to bolster the digital information and communications technology sector in more inclusive and equitable ways. Some also spotlighted the needs of particular demographic groups, including women and girls living in conflict settings, as they seek to access and use modern digital tools on an equitable footing.
During the day-long meeting, the Commission also resumed its general discussion on the priority theme, with ministers and other Government officials, as well as representatives of international organizations, United Nations system entities and non-governmental organizations, spotlighting the importance of legislation, policies and institutions to empower and protect women and girls.
Melusi Masuku, Permanent Secretary at the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister of Eswatini, said that its national gender policy in 2023 is legislation that emphasizes the promotion of women and girls’ education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and promotes investing in digital infrastructure for women.
Ismahane Elouafi, Chief Scientist, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), speaking via a pre-recorded video, underscored that innovation and technologies can help produce gender-sensitive statistics to inform policymaking and contribute to identifying institutional and policy roadblocks to gender equality.
Valerie Guarnieri, Deputy Director-General of the World Food Programme (WFP), speaking via video teleconference, highlighted the agency’s work focused on increasing the number of women with bank or mobile money accounts. WFP is aiming to help 10 million women globally get access to their own accounts in their own names by 2028. “When we send money digitally and put it in women’s hands, the world changes for them,” she stated.
The representative of the International Trade Union Confederation, in that connection, said Governments must implement regulatory frameworks that ensure equitable access to technology for all and protect and fulfil human rights, underpinned by fundamental International Labour Organization standards and other internationally recognized human rights.
Echoing that, the representative of Derechos Digitales pointed out that in Latin America groups historically excluded from accessing their fundamental rights also encounter the same barriers in accessing and using technology. States must recognize Internet access as a human right, she stressed, urging them to develop common concepts towards survivor-centric and human rights-based frameworks in public and private sectors.
The representative of OutRight Action International, speaking for the LBTI Caucus, drew attention to the online censorship, surveillance, harassment, intimidation, and cyberbullying faced by lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LBTI) people and their defenders. States must ensure that LBTI people can remain safe and enjoy their full human rights, online and offline, through strong legislation, policies, programmes and partnerships.
Speaking in the general discussion were senior officials and representatives of Estonia, Afghanistan, Honduras and Cameroon, as well as the African Union and the Permanent Observer of the Sovereign Order of Malta.
Representatives of the World Health Organization, International Organization for Migration and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization also spoke.
Also speaking today were representatives of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, International Fund for Agricultural Development, International Labour Organization, ACT Alliance and the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs of the World Council of Churches, International Association of Students in Economics and Commercial Sciences, Amnesty International, Asia-Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development, Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women, CHIRAPAQ, Human Rights Advocates, Indigenous Peoples’ International Centre for Policy Research and Education, International Federation of Business and Professional Women, International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations, International Women’s Development Agency, Oxfam International, Plan International, Soka Gakkai International (for the NGO Committee on the Commission on the Status of Women), Girls of the Sixty-Seventh Commission on the Status of Women and the African Women’s Development and Communication Network.
The Commission on the Status of Women will reconvene at 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday, 15 March, to conclude its general discussion.
UGOCHI DANIELS, International Organization for Migration, speaking via a pre-recorded video, stressed the importance of increasing migrant women and girls’ digital and financial literacy, which will enable them to start new businesses, sell products in new markets, find better paying jobs, pursue online education, and obtain health and financial services, among others. New technologies are also powerful tools to combat human trafficking, she said, adding that it has opened up new opportunities to investigate deceptive job offers and enhance prosecution with digital evidence. She called for more investment in digital health technologies, as well as the collection of sex disaggregated data. Only through a thorough and systematic assessment of the barriers and risks related to access, literacy, and digital behaviours will we be able to identify gaps and areas to support digital equity, she said.
BINETA DIOP, Special Envoy on Women, Peace and Security of the African Union, said 2023 marks the twentieth anniversary of the Maputo Protocol on Women’s Rights — a milestone for people in Africa. Noting that Africa’s youthful population presents an opportunity for innovation and digital transformation, she said the bloc, guided by Agenda 2063, has made digitally fit socioeconomic development a high priority. In that regard, the Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment strategy prioritizes the maximization of e-tech dividends. Recently, African ministers for education adopted a declaration to domesticate the #Africa_Educates_Her campaign to increase investment in girls’ education. At the African Union Summit in 2023, a decision was adopted to negotiate an African convention on ending violence against women and girls to include digital and online spaces. As well, the African Women’s Decade on Financial and Economic Inclusion 2020-2030 — an African Union flagship programme — recognizes digitalization as the core of the financial inclusion agenda.
REIN TAMMSAAR (Estonia) said that his country’s exemplary e-Government services, e-residency programme and e-voting system, shouldered by a growing technology industry, provide easy access to State services for all. During its recent parliamentary elections, where a record number of women were elected to Parliament, over 50 per cent of citizens voted online from all over the globe. However, women in his country represent only 30 per cent of graduates in information and communications technology and 25 per cent of the workforce in that industry. As such, his Government and the private sector have been implementing initiatives, including free robotics and technology classes for girls in school, he said, detailing other efforts in that regard.
MELUSI MASUKU, Permanent Secretary at the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister of Eswatini, noting that his country has continued to prioritize the empowerment of women, men, girls and boys, including persons with disabilities, said the Government adopted its national gender policy in 2023. The legislation emphasizes the promotion of women and girls’ education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and promotes investing in digital infrastructure for women. Additionally, the private sector supports the Government with scholarships for girls and young men. Moreover, the Government has adopted e-commerce platforms to bring women entrepreneurs and retailer’s new business opportunities in country and cross-border, he said.
NASEER AHMED FAIQ (Afghanistan) said that in the past 20 years, Afghani women had made great strides and were actively involved in all areas of society. They had been hopeful for a progressive future and wanted to rebuild their country. However, since the Taliban took over the country, all the gains have been reversed and their future dreams were shattered. They have been erased from the social, political and economic spheres of life. They have been denied access to work and education and cannot use public transportation. He urged all Member States and the international community to continue to support the country and pressure the Taliban to fulfil their commitments.
NOEMI RUTH ESPINOZA MADRID (Honduras), sharing the five areas of progress achieved by her Government, said Honduras updated its national plan for 2023-2033. Moreover, the country has also conducted a national survey on violence against women to bring visibility and help create a public policy based on gender-sensitive analysis. Honduras also created a protocol to help victims and survivors of sexual violence and launched an initiative to fight against violence. Moreover, President Xiomara Castro approved the use of emergency contraceptive measures, while the Government adopted a law to fight against teen pregnancy. “Honduras’ recovery has a face of a woman,” she said.
NELLY BANAKEN ELEL (Cameroon), noting women’s participation in technology fields remains low, pointed out that these modern technologies can also be used to fuel violence against women. The Government has created multi-media centres to bolster the digital skills of women. It also has created a digital lab programme, which provides training and computers to help women upgrade their technology skills. Yet women face many obstacles. The country’s technology infrastructure needs to be strengthened, especially in rural areas. The expansion of technology needs to be sustainable and inclusive and cover all women, she said.
LESIA VASYLENKO, observer for the Inter-Parliamentary Union, said parliaments are key to ensuring that policies deliver for everyone and leave no one behind. The benefits of digitalization must be equally shared and innovation geared towards the needs of the entire society. Technology has diversified the spaces in which gender-based violence can take place and has allowed more sophisticated virtual tools to become available, thus exacerbating women’s and girls’ exposure to sexual exploitation and trafficking. Laws and policies must be rights-affirming, gender-sensitive and age-sensitive, and always put people at the centre. Therefore, parliaments need to become gender-sensitive institutions. They must change their way of doing business to be more representative, better adapted and more efficient in embodying gender equality, she stressed.
VALERIE GUARNIERI, Deputy Director-General of the World Food Programme (WFP), speaking via video teleconference, said the unfolding global food and nutrition crisis and conflicts are disproportionally impacting women and girls and reversing decades of progress. In 2022 WFP delivered over $3 billion in cash transfers to around 50 million people, prioritizing women as recipients. “When we send money digitally and put it in women’s hands, the world changes for them,” she said, noting it is a gateway for them to access credit, savings, and loans, as well as remittances or Government payments so they can build a future without relying on humanitarian assistance. In Uganda, WFP worked with the country’s National Bank to increase the number of women bank agents, as well as women with bank or mobile money accounts, she said, adding that WFP is aiming to help 10 million women globally get access to their own accounts in their own names by 2028.
RALF BREDEL, Director, United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), said the organization’s “Strategy for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women” sets a target of 45 per cent of projects a year to achieve gender equality. Noting that UNIDO’s Learning and Knowledge Facility, supported by Sweden, provides industrial skills development for young women in developing countries, he said the organization also supports women who advance transformative technologies and champion innovative clean technology solutions. Through its Global Cleantech Innovation Programme, UNIDO provides support to women entrepreneurs in the acceleration phase of this business while also advancing the number of women beneficiaries, he said.
PAUL BERESFORD-HILL, Permanent Observer for the Sovereign Order of Malta, said that as a consequence of gender and educational inequality, women and girls are becoming exposed to the possibility of child marriage, teenage pregnancy, child domestic work, poor health, sexual abuse, exploitation and violence. Many of these manifestations will not change unless both Government and social norms effect radical change. Investment in education must not stop in the classroom, he stressed, pointing to the threat of human trafficking, with technology as its enabler, especially when conflict breaks out or a natural disaster occurs and result in the forced mass displacement of people.
ISMAHANE ELOUAFI, Chief Scientist, Food and Agriculture Organization(FAO), speaking via a pre-recorded video, said innovation and technologies can help produce gender-sensitive statistics to inform evidence-based policymaking and contribute to identifying institutional and policy roadblocks to gender equality. FAO is emphasizing digitalization and innovation to ensure that women and girls possess the necessary skills to access emerging technologies and innovation in agriculture agrifood systems. Detailing its various initiatives, she said FAO has piloted the Talking Books — an initiative in Uganda which utilizes inclusive digital tools and easy-to-use audio devices that allow people with low or no literacy to receive training in a dynamic way. This initiative has engaged more than 8,000 farmers on issues directly related to women’s land rights and climate change mitigation measures, she said.
ALVARO LARIO, President, International Fund for Agricultural Development, speaking via a pre-recorded video, noted that women and girls produce between 60 to 80 per cent of food in developing countries. Yet rural women are disproportionally affected by poverty and food insecurity. Pointing out that two thirds of women in Africa do not have access to Internet, he underscored that digital technology remains inaccessible for many women, thus failing to address their basic needs. In this regard, the International Fund for Agricultural Development combines the focus on rural people with leveraging information and communications technology to improve the economic and the social conditions of rural women and men. The Fund also supports the development of gender sensitive and culturally appropriate digital solutions, he added.
CHIDI KING, Branch Chief of Gender, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion of the International Labour Organization, said there is a digital divide that impacts young women and systemic and structural barriers that keep the women from full participation in the workforce. Disability, race, ethnicity and socioeconomic factors can make these problems even greater. Young women with disabilities are especially impacted. Women still perform two thirds of the unpaid domestic work. The global gender pay gap continues, with a much more severe impact on migrant women. Further, women working in digital industries experience a high degree of burnout, job instability and harassment. This must be corrected, she stressed.
Ms. AKULLO, ACT Alliance and the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs of the World Council of Churches, called on Member States to increase their efforts to close digital gender gaps, invest in inclusive technical solutions that ease women’s participation, and address online violence against all women and girls. Citing eight recommendations, she urged Member States to remove barriers to women's access and use of digital technologies, focusing on availability, affordability, safety and security of digital technologies. It is also important to address the violence against women and girls in digital space and protect those targeted online, particularly women human rights defenders, including faith leaders speaking out for gender justice.
ALYSHA ALVA, International Association of Students in Economics and Commercial Sciences, noting that the organization is present in over 100 countries and represents 30,000 young people worldwide, 64 per cent of them women leaders, underscored the important role of non-governmental organizations in developing youth leadership. Detailing the story of one of AIESEC’s members in Nepal, she spotlighted the work of the organization in empowering girls from rural areas in Nepal and other countries. In this regard, she called on youth-focused non-governmental organizations to focus on creating opportunities for young women and urged stakeholders and decision-makers to invest in young women.
Ms. CASTILLO JIMENEZ, Amnesty International, said women and girls in all their diversity, particularly women human rights defenders, are often targeted, harassed, intimidated and attacked using technology-facilitated tactics. A rights-based approach is necessary for the safe access and full, equal and meaningful participation of women and girls in digital spaces. Among other recommendations, she urged Member States to express their resolve by condemning the use of targeted digital surveillance as a tactic to attack those who defend human rights. She urged Member States to implement an immediate moratorium on the sale, transfer and use of surveillance technology until adequate human rights safeguards are in place.
JOMS SALVADOR, Asia-Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development, voiced concern about the rise of oppressive cybercriminalization regulations and laws that intrinsically encroach on civil liberties, including freedoms of expression and opinion both online and offline, as well as the consequences of the digital transformation on human rights and the climate crisis. If the Internet was a country, it would be the sixth biggest electricity consumer on the planet, she added. Citing various recommendations, she urged the Commission to take into account individual security and human rights in the policymaking discourses around cybersecurity and recognize that cybersecurity and protection of human rights are mutually complementary, interlinked and interdependent. The act of resistance and organizing for women’s human rights, gender equality and development justice must be decriminalized and protected.
EVELYN BOY-MENA, Technical Officer and Gender Lead, World Health Organization (WHO), said the organization’s Global Strategy on Digital Health 2020-2025 advocates for people-centred digital health systems to enhance digital literacy and women’s empowerment. Noting that digital technologies can support national health systems in improving accessibility and affordability of services in hard-to-reach areas, she said the use of social platforms has also proven to be effective for providing information on women and health, including sexual and reproductive health. Underscoring the importance of an intersectional and gender-responsive approach to health, she underscored the importance of addressing issues of Internet access and of the ways innovations are re-shaping the delivery of health services.
BIPLABI SHRESTHA, Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women, said Asia and the Pacific region is home to 60 per cent of the world’s young people. Despite the advantage of that demographic dividend, young people, especially girls, continue to face obstacles in their access to education. The declining trend of accessibility to quality education has exacerbated the increasingly widening digital divide and directly impacted universal access to sexual reproductive health and rights. The full potential of digital platforms can only be realized if there are human rights-based and feminist digital spaces, she said, urging Member States to increase the digital literacy of women and girls in all their diversities.
Ms. RIVERA, CHIRAPAQ, noting that her organization is present in 23 countries, said that States must ensure the rights of indigenous women and girls. She urged the Commission to uphold the rights of women and girls to live free from all violence. The rights and knowledge of indigenous women, including intellectual property rights, must be protected. Their needs must be integrated into programmes of innovation and technology and their human rights protected. Stressing that bullying must be stopped, she also called for a greater investment in infrastructure and the access to technology by indigenous women to be ensured. As well, there must be for training for young people. “We want to contribute with solutions to our problems,” she said.
MELANIE BESNELIAN, Human Rights Advocates, noting that historically symptoms of neurodivergence have been associated with boys and neurodivergent women, said that girls have been underdiagnosed and therefore have lacked priority in the education system. Underscoring that digital education and online schooling creates opportunities to end the disparity and provide neurodivergent women and girls access to the conditions required, she suggested school boards and administrations develop teaching plans for potential digital education programmes or online schooling. Such plans should take into account neurodivergent students, she added, noting that a specific language should be developed to ensure that neurodivergent women and girls have proper conditions to enhance their digital literacy and skills.
The representative of the Union for the Mediterranean recalled that in 2022 the Union adopted the Fifth Ministerial Declaration on Strengthening of Women in Society to enhance the legal framework and improve women’s access to leadership in public life and decision-making. Noting that women of the Middle East and North Africa region suffer from a lack of awareness of technological possibilities, she reported that 62 per cent of them have little or no knowledge of the industry 4.0 revolution that is creating opportunities for new and greener productive models. Recognizing that the region’s women are nowadays better educated, she expressed regret over high unemployment rates among young women in Arab countries. To this end, the Union’s member States adopted a number of commitments to promote gender equality and inclusive models of leadership, she said.
The representative of the Indigenous Peoples’ International Centre for Policy Research and Education recommended that the Commission’s sixty-seventh session endorse a resolution adopting General Recommendation No. 39 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women as the minimum standard and basic framework for the global digital compact and in all policy reform and development initiatives. That resolution must urge States to take urgent action and dispense sufficient resources into the effective operationalization of General Recommendation No. 39. Such a resolution must also urge States, donor agencies and development agencies to invest in the integration of the General Recommendation’s principles and provisions into their gender and social inclusion strategies, plans and programmes, including in monitoring, evaluation and redress processes, she said.
The representative of the International Federation of Business and Professional Women said females of all ages have been disproportionately harmed by COVID-19 and lag behind in the use of new technologies. More targeted gender-responsive recovery measures are needed to address the considerable gender gaps and inequalities. The focus of this year’s discussions on education, innovation and technological change in the digital age is critical to achieve gender justice and equality and the economic empowerment of all women and girls. She advocated for gender sensitive algorithms and apps which help prevent cyberbullying and harassment of women and girls. She also voiced her support for the review of the challenges and opportunities in achieving these goals.
The representative of the International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations, recognizing the critical role of technology, said it can also exacerbate the gender divide. In this regard, she called for the development of technological advancements with a gender-sensitive approach and elimination of gender biases. Underscoring the importance of increasing digital literacy to help reduce technological gaps, she said young people should be included in decision-making and the implementation of programmes. Spotlighting the role of Asian people in developing innovative solutions, she urged Governments to prioritize investment in youth-led innovation and digital education to create an accessible digital future.
The representative of the International Trade Union Confederation said digitalization requires plans, policies and budgets which ensure local and global societies and economies are gender-transformative and inclusive and guarantee rights and protections and decent work for women in all their diversity. Detailing gender-transformative actions needed in a wide range of areas, she said Governments must implement regulatory frameworks that ensure equitable access to technology for all and protect and fulfil human rights, underpinned by fundamental International Labour Organization standards and other internationally recognized human rights. Law reforms are also needed to ensure workers engaged in the platform economy are recognized as employees, entitled to decent work and have full organizing and collective bargaining rights, she added.
The representative of the International Women’s Development Agency said the “We Rise Coalition” is made up of six feminist organizations from the Blue Pacific and represents the diverse voices of Pacific women from sister organizations in Fiji, Samoa, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and Australia. More Pacific women are needed in the information and communications technology workforce. These work sites must have safe spaces where women can safely breastfeed, have safe access to menstrual and WASH [water, sanitation, hygiene] facilities, and are ensured of strict policies on sexual harassment in the workplace. She also urgently called for a Pacific-centred approach to addressing women’s needs in information and communications technology, which addresses the specific Pacific features and characteristics of the ocean, land and Pacific people.
The representative of Derechos Digitales, noting that digital spaces transform and evolve, underscored the importance of modifying the application and implementation of human rights standards. Pointing out that in Latin America access to and use of technologies reflects existing structural inequalities, she said that groups historically excluded from accessing their fundamental rights not only encounter the same barriers in accessing and using technology but are also subject to new forms of violence that generate new forms of exclusion. Calling on States to recognize Internet access as a human right, she urged them to develop common concepts towards survivor-centric and human rights-based frameworks in public and private sectors.
The representative of OutRight Action International, speaking on behalf of the LBTI Caucus, said digital spaces hold both opportunities and threats for lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LBTI) people. Through digital technologies, they have opportunities to access information, build community, and advance human rights organizing. However, LBTI people and their defenders face threats of censorship, surveillance, harassment, intimidation, and cyberbullying in the digital environment. States must therefore ensure that LBTI people can remain safe and enjoy their full human rights, online and offline, through strong legislation, policies, programmes and partnerships. To ensure inclusive and equitable education for all, education systems must be free from discrimination, including on grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristics.
The representative of Oxfam International said the right to education is fundamental for gender equality and the realization of the rights of women, girls and gender-diverse people. Yet the gender gap between girls and boys in school enrolment is worrying and data consistently shows, especially in low- and middle-income countries, that girls from poor families are most likely to be, and remain, out of school. The cost of education is one of the main barriers. While technology can play a role, the questions of affordability, access, digital literacy and safety persist, if not worsen, for girls that could not enrol or stay in formal education. Universal access to free, quality education is core to the fight against inequality and gender inequality, she emphasized.
The representative of Plan International, also speaking for Care International, ChildFund Alliance, Defence for Children International, FEMNET, and Save the Children International, urged Governments to prioritize young people, who are marginalized due to their intersecting identities. Calling for the implementation of participatory and inclusive policies and legislation to encourage girls’ and young women’s innovation and collaboration, she also urged States to invest in digital infrastructure and digital literacy to ensure that no girl is left behind. “By working together, we can achieve gender equality and create a more just and sustainable future for all,” she stressed.
The representative of Soka Gakkai International, speaking for the NGO Committee on the Status of Women, New York, said the mandate of the Committee, which was founded in 1972, is to create an inclusive and collaborative space for civil society through its NGO Forum during the Commission’s official session. This year, its Forum is in a hybrid format, with nearly 14,000 on its virtual platform open and free for anyone to access, she said, detailing its other efforts. The Committee’s Advocacy and Research Group submitted five key recommendations for the Zero Draft and briefs to Member States and the Secretariat, informed by over 700 global consultations and surveys. She called on the Commission to maintain a human rights framework in the agreed conclusions, create accountability mechanisms, and make violence against women and girls as well as gender-based violence a standing agenda item at the Commission.
The representative of The Girls of the Sixty-Seventh Commission on the Status of Women said that to create safe digital platforms and learning communities and promote girls’ voices digitally, Member States must increase access to social media for girls who are suppressed by powerful institutions. It is also necessary to create safe digital learning communities through increased enforcement of community guidelines and address gaps in safety policies while increasing accountability through clear processes of reporting digital harassment. All girls should have access to digital education and literacy. Yet biases in education mean girls struggle to receive and understand technology. This must be corrected.
The representative of the African Women’s Development and Communication Network pointed to African countries’ continued information and communications technology infrastructure deficit, stressing that it creates adverse effects on digital infrastructure and a lot of barriers for digital access for women in rural and remote areas. In this regard, she recommended enhancing digital technology infrastructure while ensuring its resilience and accessibility in rural areas and formal settlements. Noting that only 30 per cent of Africa’s population has access to the Internet, she suggested using high-speed broadband coverage to reduce the urban-rural digital divide. Moreover, she urged Member States to review the impacts on their fiscal policies to ensure that digital equipment and services are of quality and accessible to all.
Interactive Expert Panel on Priority Theme
The Commission on the Status of Women this afternoon held an interactive expert panel on the priority theme “Innovation and technological change, and education in the digital age for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls”.
Antje Leendertse (Germany), Commission Chair-designate, said digitalization has often been portrayed as an equalizer of opportunities. However, it has continued a pattern of genderblind innovation already seen in the analogue world. The lack of clear and deliberate intention to develop gender transformative technology that responds to the needs of women and girls and addresses the underlying structural problems driving gender biases creates vicious circles, where inequalities are amplified and perpetuated through digital tools. The differences observed within and across countries require adopting an intersectional lens to examine the impact on different groups of women, she said.
The discussion featured presentations by: Alison Gillwald of South Africa, Executive Director of Research, ICT Africa; Nino Enukidze of Georgia, Rector of the Business and Technology University of Georgia; Elisa Lindinger of Germany, Co-Founder and Managing Director of SUPERRR Lab; Anita Gurumurthy of India, Executive Director of IT for Change; Reem Alsalem, United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, its causes and consequences; and Mónica Roqué, General Secretary of Human Rights, Community Gerontology, Gender and Care Policies of the National Institute of Social Services for Retirees and Pensioners of Argentina.
Ms. GILLWALD said the call for digital equality has been a top priority both at the international and national levels over the years, based on the premise that the Internet can help the international community achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Sustainable Development Goal 5b specifically identifies the enhanced use of enabling technology, particularly information and communications technology. She outlined several important areas, including the unevenness of data and digital opportunity, binary and homogeneous presentation of gender, the dearth of data, heterogeneity within gender categories and gender digital inequality reflected in data and algorithmic injustice. Despite gender and digitalization being priority issues on the 2030 Agenda, which is based on the access to mobile phones and the Internet to improve lives, livelihoods and life opportunities, there is only very patchy gender data for evidence-based digital policy formulation. Without this data there is little way of assessing the progress being made towards the Sustainable Development Goals and the information and communications technology sub-targets that underpin them. Noting the myriad of policy considerations, particularly regarding developing countries, she highlighted a key recommendation — that there is a 1 per cent contribution from the domain name system registration fees of all countries towards a digital solidarity fund, which would then be allocated based on applications by States to the fund.
Ms. ENUKIDZE, noting that in Georgia women still face gender-based violence, said only 15 per cent of girls choose technology as a career. To change this pattern, she suggested triggering girls’ interest in technology by offering them in-demand skill sets through coding schools, technology bootcamps and festivals and using storytelling with women role models, among other things. To tackle the digital divide, technology must be made affordable for women and girls through funded programmes, scholarships and grants. In this regard, public and private partnerships could be considered for funding purposes, including donor organizations. Turning to Georgia’s experience, she said that, with the support of the UN-Women Georgia, the Business and Technology University launched a coding school for women and designed a fully funded digital literacy program. Additionally, a career bootcamp for women was created to advise participants on possible career paths, concepts of equal pay, promotion and working conditions. A flagship programme “500 Women in Tech” is being implemented with the support of UN-Women Georgia and the Government of Norway to increase women’s participation in technology by providing free training to 500 women across the country. The more than 50 partner companies have already offered the women graduates paid internships or full-time jobs. Moreso, women from Russian Federation-occupied territories of Georgia and 50 refugees from Ukraine also participated in the programme.
Ms. LINDINGER, highlighting three challenges which must be addressed, noted that policymakers’ first impulse to combat social problems is to call for technical solutions — content moderation, de-anonymization, data retention and online surveillance. However, censorship, gender-based violence and women dropping out of public life are not digital problems but social problems that are rooted in the offline world and get accelerated and multiplied through technology. As such, the focus should be on understanding and addressing their root causes. Turning to gendered assessments, she said class, race, disability, age, location, and gender identity all result in particular needs that digital technology must fulfil for it to be usable for all women and gender nonconforming people. More granular research is needed, she said, adding that the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) toolkit for mainstreaming and implementing gender equality provides starting points on how to work responsibly with gender-disaggregated data. Highlighting the low attendance of women in decision-making or governance bodies on digital technology safety and security, she said support structures for experts on gender equality, as well as for young women computer scientists and engineers, are needed if their expertise is to be heard more frequently in those bodies, especially in those that create binding policy. Noting that there are a few core misconceptions about technology and gender that must be considered when aiming to improve the digital world for women and gender-nonconforming people, she pointed out that technical solutions, while popular, often fail to deliver. As well, the diverse needs of people with intersecting identities are not well understood or considered.
Ms. GURUMURTHY said there is a silver lining as the international community looks at a world re-ordered by algorithms. A confident body of feminist work is emerging that points to the fallibility of artificial intelligence (AI) models and the fallacy of techno-fascination. There needs to be a recognition of whose rights are implicated in the use of data and whose needs are being met by data and AI innovation. AI system development that fails to account for the social status differentiation, produced by the intersectional operations of gender power, could lead to a range of adverse impacts on the ground, including lower quality of services for women and non-binary individuals. This would arise from AI tools for targeted welfare delivery, trained on unrepresentative gender data. For example, voice-recognition systems, increasingly used in the automotive and health-care industries, often perform worse for women. Another issue is the reinforcement of existing, harmful stereotypes and prejudices, made viral by algorithmic recommendation systems that perpetuate sexism. Further, facial recognition software from Amazon, Google, Clearview AI, and others used by Government agencies and law enforcement can have disproportionately dire consequences for women, along with physical harm caused by wrong clinical diagnosis of women’s health conditions due to biased training data. In a world remade by data sciences, women’s human rights must be imbued in the right to development that “belongs to everyone, individually and collectively, with no discrimination and with their participation”. The scientific pursuit for data-enabled wisdom must build on the sovereign pathways for progress determined through public debate and reason and be respectful of women’s social and ecological interdependencies, she said.
Ms. ALSALEM, pointing out that technology-facilitated gender-based violence has become one of the most accessible tools used by perpetrators, noted that Internet platforms have a high tolerance for gendered violence, as opposed to other kinds of harassment, including hate speech or incitement to discrimination and violence. Moreover, legislation loopholes tend to aid and abet such discrimination, while undermining the right to freedom of association and expression of civil society actors, including women’s groups. Noting that technology-based gender violence is embedded in patriarchy and misogyny, she said it shapes gender relations and fosters inequality. The patriarchy is felt at both the individual and collective level, also shaping the way women access technology, which is deeply gendered. Thus, technology cannot be removed from a wider context of gender bias by law enforcement and the judiciary. In one country she visited, online violence was acknowledged as a serious problem, including by representatives from the Government. Yet, all types of violence against women in that country were shockingly high, and there was no legal framework to combat violence against women, including femicide or sexual violence. “In an environment such as this, it is evident why there is really no meaningful space to even start speaking about combating technology-based violence,” she said. Thus, it is important that States publicly condemn and duly investigate smear campaigns against women, while also criminalizing any such behaviour. Turning to civil society and civic movements, including those led by women, she said they use technology as a means of fighting the abuse and violence they suffer through the same technology.
MS. ROQUE, noting that older women make up 56 per cent of the population over 60 years old, pointed out that women live six years longer than men, but in worse conditions, suffering more from poverty, disease, disabilities and violence. As well, older women are poorer because they have spent much of their lives looking after others doing non-renumerated work, harming their access to social protection. In addition, 30 per cent of women 65 and older worldwide are illiterate compared to 19 per cent of men. How can older women access information and communications technologies if they still do not have access to basic education, she asked. Citing various statistics, she underscored that data shows the great inequality suffered by the elderly, confirming not only the digital divide based on age, but also on gender. Older women also suffer from loneliness, isolation and violence, she said, underscoring the importance of information and communications technologies to prevent and address those situations. The use of such technologies has many advantages for old age in general and for older women in particular. They help older women overcome prejudices and ageism and allow them to continue leading active social lives, become independent and autonomous, and improve their access to quality health-care services. The use of technologies by older persons is guaranteed as a human right in article 20 of the Inter-American Convention on the Protection of Human Rights of Older Persons, she said, voicing hope that that will soon become a universal convention. The digital divide suffered by older women must be placed on national and international agendas, she emphasized, stressing that today they lag far behind the rest of society.
As the floor opened for questions and comments, several speakers shared their national experiences in the fields of science, technology and innovation, outlining efforts to bolster that sector in more inclusive and equitable ways. Some also spotlighted the needs of particular demographic groups, including women and girls living in conflict settings, as they seek to access and use modern digital tools on an equitable footing.
The representative of Pakistan said that, despite national and international efforts, the digital gender gap is growing — particularly between developed and developing countries, and within developing countries. Calling for transformative action, he underlined the need to mobilize resources and technical assistance to support women and girls who have missed out on the right to an education — in particular, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the impacts of the global climate change crisis.
The representative of Denmark said the world has become dependent on technology. Noting that the technology sector has nevertheless not evolved equitably, she said missing data for women can have serious consequences for women’s lives. She called for research, development and business models that are representative and inclusive, emphasizing that a diverse group of people “sees different solutions” and will provide more and better answers to the world’s challenges.
The representative of the United States noted that, among other things, science, technology and innovation are critical tools to advance global health — including women’s access to sexual and reproductive health and rights. She outlined a range of United States policies aimed at responding to that challenge and at bringing women online more broadly. However, she went on to note that — even when they do have access to the Internet — the online world is often not safe for women and girls, who often suffer harassment and violence on digital platforms. In that regard, she asked the panellists how they propose to make online platforms safer and more accessible to women and girls.
A representative of the non-governmental organization Action by Churches Together urged the international community to agree on bold, new normative language that addresses digital inequalities and urgently invest in closing the gender digital divide. Among several recommendations, she said Governments should prevent and address sexual and gender-based violence through online tools and ensure gender mainstreaming and ethics are present in all key legislative frameworks.
Several speakers also described specific policies and programmes that have yielded results in closing the digital gender gap. The representative of the Philippines described her country’s SET-UP programme, which provides support to women-led small and micro-enterprises, including by providing them with e-commerce tools. Burundi’s representative noted that her country has started a development bank aimed at connecting rural women with financial services. The representative of Italy said her Government funds STEM summer camp programmes for boys and girls in more than 200 schools, which seek to reverse longstanding stereotypes about women in technology and bring girls into the field. Meanwhile, Eritrea’s delegate spotlighted her Government’s efforts to connect rural women with online resources through a specialized rural digital platform.
Other speakers pointed to specific challenges facing groups with special needs, such as gender-diverse people and women and girls living in conflict zones.
The representative of Ukraine said children in her country are hiding in bomb shelters and are not able to study in schools, due to the Russian Federation’s full-scale invasion. Some 2,800 schools have been destroyed in the last year, she said, also drawing attention to sexual violence being committed against women and girls in her country. Against that backdrop, she called for international action to help build the capacity of Ukrainian women and children, including through STEM education exchange programmes.
Sudan’s delegate emphasized that harmful unilateral sanctions on artificial intelligence and critical information and communications technology tools, including those imposed by some countries against Sudan, have regrettably had a harsh impact on rural women and girls, and called for their urgent lifting.
A representative of the LBTI Caucus civil society group said gender-diverse people often face aggravated forms of gender-based violence, both on- and offline. That discrimination and exclusion is often exacerbated by laws that violate their rights, they said, adding that social media platforms too often allow users to stigmatize gender-diverse persons, perpetuate false narratives and spread moral panic, with impunity. Calling for more regulation of such harmful activities, they underlined the need for people of all genders to be safe online and enjoy equal access to the digital sphere.
Other speakers asked the panellists to elaborate on particular themes, including the representative of Mauritania, who asked them to address the intersection of the gender digital divide with the high rates of female poverty and illiteracy still prevalent in some parts of the world. The representative of a civil society organization asked them how it is possible to reconcile the negative impacts of social media and the Internet with its positive benefits.
Ms. GILLWALD said the evidence to answer some of these questions and understand the implications cannot be known because of the lack of public statistics. Governments frequently do not have the resources to collect data. Over the last 10 years, donors have shifted their attention to artificial intelligence and away from digital inclusion and digital equality. There are also challenges on the demand side in many African countries as Internet penetration is less than 10 per cent in some countries. This determines the use of the Internet for educational purposes, for example, which then affects women’s access to online educational opportunities. Fundamental inequalities perpetuate the underrepresentation of women in their economies. She called on the global community to find new ways to fund the collection of public data, such as the creation of a digital solidarity fund. This data is critical to equality and democracy.
Ms. ENUKIDZE reiterated that digital inclusion, closing the digital divide, access to funding opportunities and ensuring an enabling environment, is important to achieving mutual goals. Empowering women through technology can fail if the intersectional approach and the contextual factors that influence women are not taken into account. While smaller initiatives might struggle, she said, international consortiums and clusters, private sector, non-governmental organizations, academia and educational institutions can create a better future. In this regard, she underscored the need for collaboration to avoid facing the limit of talent and other dangerous social impacts.
Ms. LINDINGER underlined the need for an intersectional approach on various levels — including methods, data and participants — as well as on the user-facing and production sides. There must also be a transdisciplinary approach from academia and civil society to find solutions that actually work best, she continued, stressing that “we don’t have any time to lose”. In that regard, the Commission is an important and valuable starting point. However, it is not enough to just engage in dialogue and criticize big technology; there must also be a shared vision of digital futures, technology and governance. To ultimately ensure that digital technology fulfils basic needs, closes gaps and serves all, there must be a pressing conversation on the nature of collective governance, she emphasized.
Ms. GURUMURTHY said civil remedies are also needed to make online platforms safer. “You can’t criminalize everything,” she said. The policies of social media companies regarding harmful content should be transparent. They should report how many complaints they receive, for example. There should be investments in digital fingerprinting. As well, corporate responsibility is very important when looking at the delivery of cross-border digital services. Also important is teaching girls and adolescents how to negotiate the public space, which is an ancient question. They must be taught how to think critically and interact accordingly. “This is not just about functionalities and the settings on a phone,” she added.
Ms. ALSALEM, addressing the issue of education including digital education, spotlighted the needs of women and girls in the aftermath of natural disasters. Because of the economic situation in th aftermath of a disaster, girls are the first to be pulled out of schools to help their families. Noting that women tend to assume unpaid work and care work, she suggested providing subsidized care. Regarding missing data, she spotlighted the importance of collecting data disaggregated by sex, not just gender — “one does not stand for the other” — to make good public policy decisions. Turning to online violence, she stressed that social problems are rooted in the offline world and cannot be addressed or resolved online. She also spotlighted the importance of addressing gender norms and unrealistic and problematic ideas of what to expect from women and girls. Underlining intersectional approaches, she suggested focusing on one or two vulnerable groups rather than taking a purely intersectional approach. Finally, she called for an increase in the exchange of experience and best-practices to reduce online violence.
Ms. ROQUÉ encouraged all to focus on intersectionality since it notably covers rural women, older women and LGBTI communities. Discussions on digital inclusion programmes for girls and women generally refer to young women and forget that older women have worked for many years, she pointed out, noting also the absence of statistics on violence experienced by older women. As such, countries must have digital programmes that not only think about older persons but also include them. “To have a democratic and just society, we need to have an inclusive society and that means all ages as well, so let’s not forget older women,” she said.
Also speaking were representatives of Indonesia, Georgia, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea and Kenya. A representative of the European Union also spoke.
The representatives of several other non-governmental groups and civil society organizations also participated.