“Ensure that women’s participation in innovation is not the exception, but becomes the rule.”—Lakshmi Puri

Remarks by UN Women Deputy Executive Director Lakshmi Puri at “How Can Social and Technological Innovations Contribute to Achieving Gender Equality”, a side event organized by the Czech Republic on the occasion of the 60th session of the Commission on the Status of Women on 17 March, 2016


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First of all I would like to acknowledge and thank H.E. Mr. Jiří Dienstbier Minister for Human Rights, Equal Opportunities and Legislation of the Czech Republic for the support of the Government of the Czech Republic to UN Women and our work on the advancement of women’s rights and gender equality, and thank him for inviting me to participate in today’s discussion.

I will begin my statement with a quote from our Executive Director.

"Agenda 2030 is anything but business as usual. We need not incremental change, but bold change. We need an earthquake that will tilt the system altogether."

Current trajectories show why this imperative matters and present a strong case for challenging the status quo. According to the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Gender Gap Report 2015, the projection is that without change in the current trajectories it will take 118 years to close the gender pay gap. In the WEF’s Gender Gap report for 2015, it was argued that if we do not do things differently, if we do not take bolder steps in what we are doing—especially in politics and in the economy—it is going to take us 81 years to see parity in women’s economic participation, and more than 50 years to see parity in political participation.

Planet 50-50 by 2030 is a bold vision and will require innovative approaches by all partners involved.

Innovation presents a particularly exciting—and even necessary—pathway for seizing the present moment and achieving the goals of women’s empowerment and gender equality. Never before has the world experienced such dynamic changes in technologies, economies and societies.

Innovation in the form of processes, products, services, technologies and practices is a force for social change. Innovation is about how we use the tools available to us to disrupt, to recalibrate, to upend, to challenge inequalities and to accelerate human development and gender equality.

Moreover, we are mandated to address this. Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5 explicitly recognizes women’s use of technology as a means of implementing the gender goals in the 2030 Agenda. The Addis Ababa Action Agenda also places emphasis on the use of science, technology and innovation to achieve the SDGs, and establishes a Technology Facilitation mechanism. Of course, Beijing too explicitly calls on our leveraging of technology under Section J.

Science, technology and innovation (STI) squarely underlie the enjoyment of human and women’s rights. STI is intrinsic to sustainable development, citizenship and personal empowerment. Women’s ability to access, benefit from, develop and influence these sectors will directly impact whether we achieve our goals of Planet 50-50 by 2030. If women are left out of these 21st century revolutions, we will not achieve substantive gender equality.

Women and girls themselves have to be the innovators and agents of change while also influencing others to invest in gender equality and women’s empowerment in their own innovative work. However, there are enormous gender gaps particularly in technology and innovation systems that prevent women from playing this role.

Women and Technology: Figures & Disconnects:

Currently, only 5 per cent of the members of the National Academies in Science and Technology disciplines are women. There are similarly low figures around women in research and development, publication, leadership in government and the private sector and so on. Only 6 per cent of Information, Communications and Technology (ICT) regulators and ministers and of the top 100 Tech CEOs are women, and the figures are dropping. Just 7 per cent of venture capital (VC) funded startups are led by women and only 9 per cent of apps in Europe are created by women.

Only 10-15 per cent of high level managers in the technology sector are women and only 20 per cent of the jobs held in the energy sector are held by females—mostly in non-technical positions. Innovation hubs globally average less than 10 per cent participation of women. And moreover, it is estimated that 90 per cent of the electronic goods are created by men.

This situation helps to entrench the technology gap between men and women, and the difference in opportunities to access technology, to benefit from jobs, applications and to influence technology and innovation.

Yet the opportunities are potentially enormous. The economic opportunities in science, technology and innovation illustrate the scope of change that can potentially be achieved.

It is expected that 90 per cent of all future jobs will require ICT skills. There is a 200 million shortage of ICT-skilled workers in the world. It is critical that women and girls have access to the necessary training and formation in this area.

The expected value of the digital economy is 4.2 trillion dollars in the G20 countries alone. The value of climate change and clean technology sectors in the next decade is expected to be 6.4 trillion dollars.

If female farmers had equal access to fertilizers, technology and credit, a 2.5-4 per cent increase of productivity and 150 million fewer hungry people would be expected.

The opportunity gap is increasing and the role of women in innovation must be given far greater attention and investment than at present.

The reasons for this disconnect are many. So what can be done to reverse this situation?

In order to change this, urgent actions are needed. Some entry points include:

  • Gender-responsive national level policies (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (STEM), Economic Development, Innovation Systems);
  • Issues of affordability and control over technology resources;
  • Removal of discriminatory laws that restrict women’s access to resources;
  • Education and skill development with special emphasis on STEM and core innovation and 21st century skills;
  • Financial education, inclusion and investment;
  • Elimination of negative and pervasive stereotypes and discriminatory social and legal norms. These are particularly pronounced around gender, STEM and innovation;
  • Changed workplace culture;
  • Promotion of women in leadership positions in STEM sectors (e.g. in research and development (R&D) positions);

UN Women’s STEM and Innovation work:

For its part, UN Women has taken up this mandate with growing focus.

UN Women has established an Innovation Facility with support from the Danish government. This focuses on innovations for gender equality and women’s empowerment, promotion of girls and women as innovators, and builds capacity of UN women staff to pursue innovation within our work.

Areas of innovation are also addressed within all of UN women’s portfolios, with a focus within economic empowerment on the promotion of women in the tech and innovation sectors.

For example, from awareness-raising, to personal safety, to service delivery, to redress, the UN Women programmes on the elimination of violence against women are incorporating technology in many innovative ways. Initiatives include:

  • Creating safer public spaces for personal safety through the Safetypin and Call 180 applications deployed in multiple countries;
  • Safescaping through HarassMap in Egypt and digital audits in the Rio favelas and rural Guatemala;
  • Mapping use of mobile phones by youth and women in Safe Cities programme sites;
  • Access to redress through mobile technology aimed at tracking police response to Violence Against Women in humanitarian settings; and capturing forensic evidence.

We are also addressing the threats that technology can pose, such as cyber-related violence, harassment and online security, which has already had a chilling effect on women’s freedom of speech and has driven girls and women off of the internet.

Technology is a critical driver of women’s economic empowerment. This is reflected in a range of initiatives that seek to enhance women’s use of technology for income generation and solution development. Some notable examples include: 

  • Digital financial inclusion and e-payments in the regional Markets For Change programme in the Pacific Region;
  • Innovation Exchange for technology developed by and for rural women in Africa;
  • Use of digital technology and apps to support enterprise and access to employment among home-based workers in Asia;

UN Women’s Flagship programmes on Energy, Entrepreneurs, and Climate Change and Agriculture also have important technology dimensions.

UN Women is supporting a number of initiatives that aim to create the next generation of women technology and innovative entrepreneurs; including for example:

  1. Technovation is an annual challenge and club model that engages young women to solve a local problem using technology and to develop accompanying business plans. Through a global model with local engagement and adaptation, scale is being achieved—thousands of girls are reached and the mentors have also boosted their careers and started businesses. The 2015 winners were from Nigeria and developed an app on waste management, which created economic opportunity and promoted recycling.
  2. Salu Batsu is a UN Women Fund for Gender Equality (FGE) supported social innovation organization that works to promote opportunities in the ICT sector for young women from rural impoverished areas. It works with parents, educators and companies to develop girls’ ICT skills and related entrepreneurship opportunities, including app development. 
  3. Through HeForShe, a solidarity movement for gender equality, we are engaging men and boys as advocates and agents of change. A new and central part of the youth engagement of HeforShe involves ideation events with partner universities. Universities agree to implement the top one or two ideas that come out of the Ideathon. Waterloo University recently held an Ideathon on Women and STEM. As part of their HeforShe commitments, they have also started scholarships for women STEM students. Similarly, Cambridge University has also made a HeforShe commitment around STEM.

Czech government efforts:

Innovation—in its many forms—and gender equality are universal issues. It is commendable that the Czech government is giving attention to these issues by adopting positive measures to promote higher representation of women in science and research as well as in bodies responsible for the creation of national policies of science, research and innovations. The government is also integrating gender mainstreaming in strategic documents related to science, research and innovations, and including a gender perspective in the creation of scientific knowledge and innovations.

This is being done under their Gender Strategy, which is an important signal that gender advocates see STEM as essential to women’s empowerment. It is important that gender is reflected in STEM strategies and policies, but also that STEM is reflected in Gender Strategies and Action plans. The government is also actively taking on the very concerning issue of cyber-related violence so that women are not hindered in their ability and continue to engage online and innovate through ICTs.

All this said, we must highlight what women have already accomplished in the innovation space and also galvanize the global community to do more to ensure that women’s participation in innovation is not the exception, but becomes the rule. This event today at CSW 60 serves as a reminder of our collective accountability to advance women in science, technology and innovation more broadly and critically for achieving gender equality and ultimately, all other development goals.

Thank you!