The role of digital technology innovations in promoting gender equality

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In the developed countries close to 87 percent use the Internet while in the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), only 19 percent of individuals are using the Internet. PHOTO/TOM PERRY/WORLD BANK

By PATRICK MAYOYO

The UN has fast-tracked the role of digital technology innovations in gender equality through empowerment of women and girls by coming up with two key documents to guide this initiative.

The documents include the Secretary General’s strategy on new technologies and the roadmap on digital cooperation, that underscores the critical role that innovation and technology are play in delivering sustainable development including gender equality.

“Without innovation, we cannot meet the challenges of our time.” –UN Secretary-General António Guterres said on the UN Innovation Toolkit.

The UN boss says that new and rapidly developing technologies such as artificial intelligence, biotechnology, material sciences and robotics hold incredible promise for the advancement of human welfare adding that they also hold the potential to generate more inequality and more violence.

The UN says the goal of its internal strategy is to define how the United Nations system will support the use of these technologies to accelerate the achievement of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and to facilitate their alignment with the values enshrined in the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the norms and standards of international law.

“We will need to work closely with new and current partners to overcome challenges and reconcile interests, especially in the areas of privacy and human rights, ethics, equality and equity, sovereignty and responsibility, and transparency and accountability,” the UN dds.

Mr Guterres says based on consultations across the UN system, he has  identified five principles to guide UN engagement with new technologies that include; Protect And Promote Global Values, Foster Inclusion And Transparency, Work In Partnership, Build On Existing Capabilities And Mandates and Be Humble And Continue To Learn.

“Based on these principles, I am announcing four strategic commitments: I will strengthen UN capacity to engage with new technologies: by training staff, increasing our knowledge and staying current with major technological advancements so that UN staff can better engage with key stakeholders on both the benefits and the risks associated with these developments, as they relate to our mandates,” he said.

The UN Secretary General has also promised to increase his outreach and engagement: by speaking with diverse partners, calling attention to the benefits and risks of new technologies.

“I may consider appointing a Technology Envoy following the work of the High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation. We will further promote dialogue on normative and cooperation frameworks: by supporting implementation of existing agreements and recommendations and strengthening established multi-stakeholder mechanisms,” he added.

Mr Guterres also undertook to establish a High-Level Panel of leaders from the public, private, and civic sectors to advise him on new models of cooperation.

“We will increase support to Member States: by strengthening national and regional capacities, by ensuring meaningful access to knowledge and policy discussions, and by connecting governments to ideas, partners and solutions,” the UN boss said.

He added that the envisaged commitments are part of the broader transformation of the UN and he will continue to engage and learn, in order to raise the UN level of ambition to ensure that new technologies are designed, managed and used for the benefit of all.

A panel discussion jointly organized by UN-Habitat and other stakeholders titled “Innovation and digital technology to enhance the participation of women and gilrs in cities” has also reinforced the role digital technology is going to play in empowering women and girls.

With Agenda 2030’s commitment to gender equality across all sectors of development, how innovation and digital technology empower women and girls must be understood, engaged with and monitored.

The need for digital capacity-building is substantial. Achieving real and sustained progress in the various dimensions of digitalization requires skills development and effective training, in particular in developing countries. GRAPHIC/UN

Towns and cities around the world provide a dynamic setting to understand the nexus between innovation, digital technology and the empowerment of women and girls.

Innovation and technology have the potential to serve as key drivers of change in cities and provide opportunities to reach women and girls, particularly those considered left behind.

Participants in the UN-Habitat led discussions argued that  there is need to identify and explore how and why digital technologies have facilitated and provided opportunities for women and girls to interact and participate in the democratic space.

They said with the COVID 19 pandemic, the Internet and smartphones have become real “tools for citizenship” and have shown how serious the gender gap in ICT is and how the lack of digital literacy has increased all economic and social inequalities.

They added that women around the world, however, not only have fewer digital tools available and fewer digital skills than men, but there is also a large gender gap in the number of women and men employed in the ICT sector with unequal economic outputs, fewer opportunities for professional growth, and difficult access to leadership positions.

In Europe, for example, women in ICT account for only 17.7 percent of the entire digital sector” and the gender gap in leadership positions is still almost double than that found in the overal labour force.

They noted that encouraging girls into STEM professions and strengthening basic digital skills in women, especially the elderly, in slums, urban suburbs, and rural areas, is therefore strategic for equality and development of the whole community.

Studies show that rapid technological development and innovation presents new opportunities as well as new challenges and knowing that innovation and technology does not automatically benefit all alike, UN Women has included innovation as one of the “drivers of change” in its Strategic Plan 2018–2021.

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