Op-ed: The role of digitalization in the Decade of Action

By Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women


This article was originally published by UNCTAD.

With the rapid digitalization of work, school and social life, stimulated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of technology and innovation to achieving gender equality and inclusive development has never been clearer nor more urgent.

Apps and online helplines can be a life-saving line of defence for the millions of women vulnerable to a growing shadow pandemic of violence. Mobile devices can help women suffering from the economic impacts of the pandemic access essential cash transfer programmes. And with sufficient access, online learning programmes can ensure that girls do not drop out of education but are better equipped for a highly digitized future. Yet this is a major sticking point - around the world 3.6 billion people remain offline; with girls, women and marginalized groups least likely to have access to technology. The global Internet user gap between women and men has been growing rather than narrowing, standing at 17 per cent globally and 43 per cent in the least developed countries. Women account for 56 per cent of those financially excluded from the digital economy.

Unless women play an equal role in designing and using digital technologies, progress on women’s rights could be reversed. Lack of diversity will not only expand gender inequality. It will limit the innovation and scope of new technologies, making them less useful for everyone.

To achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and emerge stronger from the current crisis, digital tools must be leveraged, especially for developing countries and underserved groups, so that recovery efforts simultaneously build an inclusive digital infrastructure that would accelerate progress for all.

This will take UN Agencies working together, while also bringing in networks of like-minded Member States, civil society groups and the private sector. UN Women is taking part in four initiatives where we play a leading role in promoting collaboration on digital inclusion and digital equality. We are a co-champion of the SG’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation, helping to map and organize initiatives, mechanisms and programmes within and beyond the United Nations on digital inclusion. We are also helping to shape recommendations on how to leverage digital finance for gender equality and women’s empowerment as part of the SG’s Task Force on Digital Financing of the SDGs. We are the co-founders of EQUALS, a Global Partnership for Gender Equality in the Digital Age. And UN Women’s Generation Equality Action Coalition on technology and innovation is bringing the UN System together with young people, civil society, governments and the private sector to catalyse collective action that provides women and girls with equal access to digital technologies and opportunities to design and influence digital innovations. More effective collaboration at the UN-level is key to making these initiatives a success and to ensuring that digitalization fully supports and strengthens gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Together, we must use the COVID-19 crisis to accelerate change, expand horizons and get millions of girls, women and others who face discrimination online and onto an equal footing, so that everyone can benefit from the digital revolution.

The United Nations Group on the Information Society (UNGIS) has initiated this Dialogue on the Role of Digitalization in the Decade of Action to raise awareness of both the importance of digitalization in achieving the SDGs and of the unique opportunity that UNGIS presents for more effective collaboration in this area within the UN System.  Explore other articles from the UNGIS Dialogue