Gathering of Global Leaders on ‘Digital Gender Equality’ Creates New Momentum for Urgent Action
United States of America
Commitments to empowering women and girls through digital technology were the centerpiece of a high-level multi-stakeholder meeting of EQUALS Partners that took place on 16 September in New York City on the eve of United Nations General Assembly meetings. Partners of EQUALS, a growing global network of key influencers working to bridge the digital gender divide, met to carve out a clear path forward that leverages partners’ unique capacities on this critical issue.
The group is working to address the divide between men and women’s access to digital tech resources, ensure that women possess the needed digital literacy skills, and realize more balanced representation in the tech workforce, including in leadership positions. In so doing, the work of EQUALS partners drives action towards achievement of UN Sustainable Development Goal 5 – the Gender Equality Goal.
Global data released on 14 September 2017 in the United Nations Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development’s State of Broadband 2017 report, indicates that while 48% of the global population is now online, some 3.9 billion people still do not have access to the Internet – with the digital gap growing between developed and developing countries. The report emphasized that men continue to outnumber women in terms of Internet usage worldwide, and disparities in gender access are becoming wider in developing countries, especially across Africa.
"Women play a valuable role in the ICT field, which ITU strongly recognizes and encourages. We also recognize the important need for digital accessibility and skills to empower women and girls worldwide. As part of this commitment to gender equality, ITU is honored to be a co-founder of the global EQUALS network partnership and to work hand-in-hand with other EQUALS Partners to achieve the critical task of bridging the digital gender divide,” said ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao.
EQUALS tackles its work in the form of actions on three main pillars Access, Skills and Leadership – with a dedicated coalition of partners supporting each. The partnership has taken an evidence-based research-driven approach by including a cross-cutting research led track to tackle the barriers identified in the three tracks. More than 50 organizations are now part of this innovate global partnership network. This includes more than 25 academic institutions forming the EQUALS Research Group, and the more than 25 partner organizations representing companies, United Nations agencies, government agencies and non-governmental organizations. The strength of EQUALS led the W20, in April 2017, to call on G20 leaders “to swiftly bridge the widening digital gender divide … and (set) up a comprehensive 5-year plan for gender-equal digital transformation, thereby partnering with ‘EQUALS’.”
“EQUALs is made up of a diverse group of partners who, in their own right, are doing work to address the inequality in the tech sector. If we pull together all of our initiatives, capacities and strength, we are in a very good position to make a significant impact on the ground. EQUALS therefore provides the platform from which we can do this,” said UN Women Executive-Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.
“Tech, notably mobile phones, have a hugely liberating effect on women. As these technologies develop in the future, there is so much more they can do to help disadvantaged women in the developing world,” said David Malone, Rector of United Nations University, and leader of the EQUALS Research Group. “I hope the EQUALS Research Group will become the go-to resource for policy makers, journalists and academics,” he added.
The impact of digital access and skills on women in business was highlighted by Arancha González, Executive Director of the International Trade Centre, who shared that, “40% of women-owned businesses are not familiar with the use of technology, 12% are less likely to use email, and only 8% have access to the digital space. But if addressed, this can generate 28 trillion dollars to build GDP by 2025.” She added that, “Tech helps us make sure that there is no gender bias in trade.”
The diverse stakeholder group committed at the meeting to each leveraging and making available to EQUALS their unique capacities. This includes expertise and skills in the areas of trade, women and girls issues, statistical analysis, information and communication technologies, education, career planning, policy decision-making, and many others.
Emphasizing the need for a diverse partnership, such as EQUALS, with the capacities necessary to approach the issue from varying perspectives, Paul Layzell, Principal, Royal Holloway, University of London said, “This is an issue that cannot be addressed through a single lens, multiple lenses have to be considered to unpack the underlying issues.”
“EQUALS is an incredible opportunity for us to challenge ourselves, and work together in a much more innovative way,” said Sonia Jorge, Head of Digital Inclusion Programs with the Web Foundation. “Let’s do it, and work together, and make EQUALS a platform that can be replicated,” she added emphasizing the strong collaborative approach of EQUALS.
“EQUALS is a game changer because of its multi-stakeholder approach. The gender gap that we are trying to fix is a very complex issue because of social, economic and culture issues, and that can only be fixed if we have a broad approach. At GMSA, we believe strongly in gender equality, and we believe that mobile connectivity is a key enabler for people to access resources and be financially included,” said Mats Granryd, GMSA Director General.
“Bridging the digital gender divide is very much about the human rights of girls and women. We are offering our help and the tools needed,” said Craig Mokhiber Chief, Development & Economic & Social Issues Branch, Research and Right to Development Division of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Echoing this offer of support was Manu Bhardwaj, Vice President for Research and Insights at Mastercard, who said, “We at Mastercard are very supportive of EQUALS and want to contribute. We also encourage other companies to do thorough assessments of the gender work they are doing – and encourage a strategic approach to this.”
“We fully support gender equality and EQUALS,” echoed Christine Schneeberger of the Government of Switzerland, “And we believe that gender equality strategies must be included in national strategies.”
The meeting concluded with broad support for the multi-stakeholder approach of EQUALS and agreement on the importance of the three action areas of Access, Skills and Leadership. Each action area’s coalition will now continue to move forward their work, with advances reported back to the partnership.
First published on Equals.org on 18 September 2017. More information here.