Statement: Vast gains for young women and girls with the right ICT skills and assets

UN Women statement on International Girls in ICT Day 2017


Today, the international community commemorates the annual International Girls in ICT Day to raise awareness about gender gaps in the information and communications technology sectors. However, it is not a celebration. Gender gaps are widening and existing data shows that women are 14 per cent less likely than men to own a mobile phone and that 25 per cent fewer women and girls are online compared to men and boys. Research also indicates that in Africa, over 40 per cent of women are not able to effectively engage with ICT tools for personal and professional activities.

Yet, there are vast gains to win from changing this. Intel reported in 2013 that enabling internet access for 150 million women would contribute an estimated USD 13-18 billion to the annual GDP of 144 developing countries. Even doubling the pace of women becoming frequent users of digital technologies—which would contribute to gender equality in the workplace by 2040 in developed countries and by 2060 in developing countries—is not good enough.

Women are at risk of losing out on tomorrow’s best ICT job opportunities, whether in the public or private sectors, or as an employee or entrepreneur. This is especially so within the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—or STEM—fields. For example, women currently represent only 20 per cent of engineering school graduates and only 11 per cent of practising engineers. We also know that 25 per cent of women engineers leave the field after age 30, compared to 10 per cent of men engineers; and that women receive only 7 per cent of venture capital in Silicon Valley.

Current and emerging technology is fundamentally altering the job market, the type of jobs that will exist in the future and the skills that will be required for those jobs. Women’s already low participation in STEM professions, where the new jobs are expected to be created, put them at risk to lose out even further. Estimates show that women will gain only one STEM-related job for every 20 jobs lost in other areas, whereas men will gain one new job for every four lost elsewhere.

To tackle these challenges, policy tools and focused programmes are needed to shift priorities and investments, and to change the stereotypes and perceptions of women and girls in STEM fields that begin in early childhood.

Fundamental obstacles to these changes are education systems in many countries that have not changed in decades or kept up with new technology breakthroughs. To achieve sustainable development, we must rethink education, training and learning strategies to equip young women and girls with the skills required by 21st century labour markets. A study in Latin America found that women are more likely to use the internet for education and training than men. In fact, UNESCO reports that mobile technology could help 5.3 million women become literate by 2020.

Responding to these challenges and opportunities, UN Women is currently designing a free virtual learning platform, We Learn, to deliver skills development pathways that ensure that no woman or girl is left behind. The aim is to provide every woman and girl with the opportunity to re-write #HerStory with a second chance at education. The platform will deliver high-quality education and training that supports young women and girls to acquire critical 21st century digital, technical, professional and life skills, bringing innovative learning methods and knowledge to the most disadvantaged.

In a joint effort, UNESCO, WIPO and UN Women have begun a series of expert discussions focusing on closing the gender gap throughout the science, technology and innovation (STI) cycle. The joint initiative builds on existing resources and engages experts and practitioners in dialogues that will result in the identification of practical steps to be taken immediately, as well as those to be taken progressively over the next 14 years to support achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

An ongoing e-discussion is open for contributors to share their suggestions on how to improve the situation for girls in ICT in their countries. It is hosted by UN Women’s Empower Women and supported by UNESCO and WIPO. Contributions in the form of data, expert analysis, and good practices on policies, programmes and initiatives will be compiled to inform the second annual UN Multi-stakeholder Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for the SDGs (15-16 May, 2017) and the ECOSOC High Level Political Forum (10-19 July, 2017).