Equal access to digital technology crucial for gender equality
07 March 2023
By Jenna Dutton, Frances Ifeoma Ukonze, Alka Bharat
The theme of International Women’s Day 2023 is ‘DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality’. Equal access to technology for communication and services will advance women's equality.
A growing body of research and reports focused on addressing gender inequality has shown that the digital gender gap widens economic and social inequalities.
Only 57% of women are online, and they are significantly less likely to own a mobile phone across low-and middle-income countries. With less online access to tools such as early warning systems, women lack timely information about imminent hazards and so are at greater risk. This gender inequality has been visible in recent years before, during and after climate disasters.
A failure to recognize that women contribute to the survival of the planet, combined with discriminatory social and cultural norms, continue to increase the negative effects of destructive environmental management on women and girls. This is further exacerbated when women do not have equal access to technology for communication and services.
The majority of the 28 member country planning associations of the Commonwealth Association of Planners are located in the Global South. Women in these countries—as well as Indigenous women, Black women, Racialized women, women from low-income communities, women with disabilities across the world, and LGBTQIA+ communities—bear a significantly heavier burden from the impacts of climate change. Being a woman does not inherently lead to gendered vulnerability; rather, socially constructed gender norms create different capacities to respond to risks and disasters. Women do not experience these impacts the same across countries, but improvements in innovation and technology can help to decrease the global gender gap.
Advancements in India
Demographically, India is now a gender balanced country with official statistics (2019-21) indicating more females (1020) than males (1000); this is a significant shift from the 1991 census figures of 927 females per 1000 males. Holistic government and societal efforts have helped women and girls to gain social security and state-of-art capacity enhancement. Central and state governments have delivered many women-centric and girl supportive schemes, benefiting women in multiple ways. These include the following.
Mahila Shakti Kendras (MSK) provide one-stop convergent support services to women to develop skills, generate employment opportunities, and increase digital literacy. 2. SWADHAR Greh offers legal assistance to women and helps them take initiative for readjusting in societies.
STEP (Support to Training and Employment Program for Women) was introduced to provide training in skill development and to assure employment to women.
Mahila E-Haat provides opportunities to women entrepreneurs for using technology and presents their products to be manufactured and sold on an online platform.
Efforts to narrow a widening gap in Nigeria
In Nigeria, the gap in women's rights and equality is rapidly increasing. The International Monetary Fund has suggested that promoting gender equality can enhance growth and productivity, leading to stronger economic stability as women can contribute significantly to the economy if given the opportunity to thrive and can promote sustainable development. Unfortunately, there are still significant challenges in the Northern region, including limited access to education, gender-based violence, harmful cultural practices, and unequal participation in politics and leadership.
Despite the positive changes brought about by technology and innovation in Nigeria, there is still a significant gender gap and disparity in digital technology access and usage. A report by the National Bureau of Statistics in 2021 revealed 55.2% of men in Nigeria had internet access, compared to only 44.8% of women. This gap is more evident in rural areas, where only 34.2% of women had internet access compared to 47.5% of men due to affordability and availability issues. This disparity extends to the Northern region, including states like Adamawa, Borno, and Bauchi, amongst others. The lack of access to digital technologies can limit women's opportunities for education, employment, and social and economic empowerment.
Digital tools have been deployed to address gender-based inequality in Nigeria:
SafeCity is particularly effective in addressing gender-based violence by enabling women and girls to anonymously report incidents of sexual harassment and violence. The app has registered over 7,000 such incidents in Nigeria, and the data collected has been used to lobby for policy changes and improve women's safety.
SAFETIPIN was also developed to address gender-based violence, especially where women feel unsafe walking alone at night.
Other tools such as Shecluded aim to provide financing, mentorship, and networking opportunities for women entrepreneurs. While the latter was developed to address the gender gap in access to finance, feedback from the app suggests it is not entirely effective in achieving its goals.
While these digital tools demonstrate positive changes and are valuable to advancing equality for women, without simultaneous increased online access in both urban and rural areas, women will continue to be disadvantaged. Furthermore, because the cascading impacts of digital gender gaps widen disparities caused by social inequities, climate change and other pressures, broader systems change is required.