The digital era presents as a source of multiple opportunities, such as e-learning, raising awareness, and of course the creation of new jobs on the labor market. A way for both girls and women to power up and become more autonomous in a marginalized society. There are nevertheless threats not to ignore.
Taking into consideration the Covid-19 crisis along with others, it has become essential to access digital spaces. Digital technologies also offer new levers for cyber-criminality anonymity and impunity. Discrimination within these digital environments does perpetuate, and actually intensifies, gender inequalities.
To find a solution to these inequalities and establish a positive digital future, UN Women has pointed out four measures to eventually shatter them.
Make up for digital access and competencies gaps
The ever-developing digitization has contributed to deepening disparities between genders, as both girls and women seem to be (once again) progressively left behind. Research led by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) reveals that the gender digital divide score has increased by 20 million since 2019. Last year, 63% of women across the globe were using the Internet, compared to 69% of men.
These percentages are rather limited, as they do not consider factors such as race, age, handicap, socio-economic status, or residence. And this participates in evaluating women’s digital access. Contrary to one can think, the problem does not lie in connectivity only. In less developed countries, while 76% of the population is covered with broadband mobile networks, only 25% of individuals are connected – with 52% chance of them being men.
Cooperation among the different stakeholders is highly required to bring about major change; this regards public and private sectors, civil society, and women’s organizations/associations. Not only is it necessary to collect relevant data on both efforts and solutions enabling women to overcome obstacles; it is also fundamental to implement programs and initiatives. The latter could encompass for instance smartphones & laptops grants for women & girls, digital initiation programs, or low-cost mobile subscription.
Encourage women and girls to engage in STEM pathways
As of today, women are in minority in STEM careers as, at global scale, women’s median share of employment in the ICT sector is less than one third. The various stereotypes on people who are (or not) made for STEM careers might in fact surely persuade girls not to pursue this pathway – by lack of encouragement. Besides, when women actually succeed to establish themselves in such careers, they evolve in a hostile environment, considerable wage gaps, and also workplace harassment. All these factors make women less prone to keep working in this field.
It is overall essential to wipe these stereotypes out based on gender in schools, so as to encourage as many girls than boys to engage in STEM sectors. For this, women representation is necessary among the teaching staff, so girls can have role models to follow. And to address inequalities in the workplace, it is necessary to institute an enlarged labor legislation so as to anticipate labor market transitions, so as to reduce gender inequalities: this encompasses rules to stand against wage gaps and social protection for instance.
Create technologies to cover women’s and girls’ needs
Considering that technology is the reflection of its creators, it is no surprise that digital tools do not (entirely) address women’s needs. This also means that they produce less data compared to men, which hence generate unequal gender representation in overall data. A global analysis led on 133 AI systems between 1988 and today demonstrated that 44% of them featured bias based on gender; and this hence impacts the service quality, an unequal resources repartition, and it strengthens harmful stereotypes.
There thus needs to create less biased and hence more inclusive technologies, so as to respect free speech, ethical norms, and overall human rights. This passes through a revised conception and regulation process, which requires collecting experts’ advice – notably in humanities and in social sciences. And the compliance of these rules also lie in the hands of governments, so as to establish businesses’ responsibilities, to set mandatory surveillance mechanisms, and to guarantee transparency regarding data use through mandatory audit in the AI sector. International digital governance is essential to protect the common good.
Stand against gender-based online violence
As women tend to suffer gender-based violence in the real world, this type of behavior can carry on within digital environments. This could hence participate in explaining the lack of women representation online, as women tend to apply auto-censorship on themselves and hence leave digital platforms.
As social media platforms are often misused to spread fake news or sexist/harmful comments for instance – notably towards women – it is essential, not to say urgent, to implement international norms or standards on gender-based digital violence – which does not exist as of now.
On top of civic education, it will become necessary to extend it to digital civic education so as to instill both empathy and ethics on connected devices in children, and then show how boys and men can contribute to gender equality – whether online or offline.