Op-ed: Digital rights are women’s rights
Gender equality—and long-term, sustainable economic recovery—cannot be achieved without first closing the gender digital divide.
How do we crack the barriers to economic recovery? A significant part of that answer lies in the equal role of women in the economy and what enables—or disables—their participation. In March this year, the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women set out in its Agreed Conclusions multiple actions to be taken across society to manage innovation and technology for women’s economic, social, and political empowerment and to tackle the new and unique barriers presented by engagement in the digital space. It has become clear that we will not achieve gender equality without closing the gender digital divide. Digital rights are women’s rights, and both must be centre stage in all our plans for a digitalized society and a new economic order.
Digital inclusion and literacy are critical factors for the well-being and success of women and girls, opening new avenues for learning, earning and leading, at the same time as giving rise to profound new challenges and compounded gender inequalities. This past year alone, 259 million more men than women were online. Digital technology is an important component of increased access and a catalyst for more possibilities. However, a significant access gap remains to be bridged: over 230 million fewer women than men have access to the internet via mobile technology, and women are 18 per cent less likely than men to own a smartphone. I ask the G7 to take concrete measures to ensure equal access to affordable mobile devices and to an open, affordable, accessible, safe, and secure internet.
The Commission on the Status of Women urged a commitment to improved women’s financial inclusion, including through access to and quality of financial services, expanding the use of digital channels, and adopting digital solutions to promote faster, safer, and cheaper remittances, and concrete actions to reduce transaction costs to less than 3 per cent by 2030.
Findex data show the gender gap in account ownership across developing economies to have fallen to six percentage points from nine percentage points, where it had stalled since 2011. I ask the G7 to consider tools to reduce gender gaps in this area, including adopting a national financial inclusion strategy with an explicit focus on women’s financial inclusion; digitizing government-to-person payments, social transfers, and remittance flows that benefit women; developing financial and digital literacy programmes that build women’s confidence in using the services; and ensuring consumer protection mechanisms are in place and responsive to maintain customers’ trust in the service.
Through a gender lens
I ask that policymakers and central bankers apply a gender lens in their national financial inclusion policies, promote consumer protection principles, and require sex-disaggregated data from regulated financial services providers.
We also need intentional regulatory approaches to improve transparency and accountability requirements with regard to the safety of women and girls. Generative artificial intelligence and other innovations have shown us that the industry is developing faster than we can keep up with its implications and applications. The gap in access to digital tools and opportunity is widest where women and girls are often most vulnerable, disproportionately affecting women and girls with low literacy or low income, those living in rural or remote areas, migrants, women with disabilities, and older women.
International human rights law applies more than ever to the sectors of our societies that are less robust than others and more vulnerable to being left behind or taken advantage of. We continue to see radical groups and some governments use social media to target women, particularly women human rights defenders, in new forms of digital repression and oppression. I ask the G7 to lead in taking steps to prevent and eliminate technology-facilitated gender-based violence, to protect the rights of women and girls online, and to address challenges associated with the use of new and emerging digital technologies to incite violence, hatred, discrimination, and hostility.
In 2023, we look to gather momentum and action on these issues and others raised by the Commission on the Status of Women, through the development of the Global Digital Compact, as part of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Our Common Agenda, and towards the Summit of the Future. Together, through collectives such as the Generation Equality Action Coalition on Technology and Innovation for Gender Equality, we can shape a future that truly and comprehensively advances women’s rights and prosperity. Where women and girls have equal opportunities to safely and meaningfully access, use, lead and design technology and ensure that building inclusive digital economies is at the core of the COVID-19 recovery efforts. Where technology contributes to transforming social norms, amplifies women’s voices, pushes back against online harassment, prevents the perpetuation of algorithmic biases, and distributes the benefits of digitalization equally to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.