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The year 1975 was marked by the United Nations as the International Women’s Year. It was observed to remind the international community that discrimination against women remained a persistent problem in all parts of the world. It was also in 1975 that the UN began commemorating the International Women’s Day on the 8th of March. Two years later, the UN General Assembly formalised the Day. The commemoration of Women’s Day in March had begun long before the entire month was declared Women’s History Month. Because of the connection to International Women’s Day, March was proclaimed Women’s History Month, during which various events and activities began to hold in celebration of women’s achievements, while raising awareness of the challenges that women face worldwide.
Since the early days, Women’s History Month has provided an opportunity to recognise women’s important contributions to society and highlight the ongoing struggle for gender equality. It has also served as a reminder that women’s history is an integral part of the world’s shared history and that women have played a crucial role in shaping our world today.
The UN has commemorated IWD around specific themes that speak to the condition of women in the world. This year, the UN marked IWD under the theme ‘DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality.’
This year’s theme for IWD aligns with the priority theme for the 67th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW-67), titled “Innovation and technological change, and education in the digital age for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls”. The theme recognises and celebrates women and girls’ championing of the advancement of transformative technology and digital education. It also further explores the impact of the digital gender gap on widening economic and social inequalities, while spotlighting the importance of protecting the rights of women and girls across digital spaces and mitigating online and ICT-facilitated gender-based violence.
UN Women’s Gender Snapshot 2022 report, the exclusion of women from the digital world has cost $1 trillion from the gross domestic product of low and middle-income countries in the last decade.
The conversations around the IWD themes are often had on a global stage where representatives from various parts of the world share knowledge and experiences about their efforts towards a gender-inclusive world. Due to the nature of these conversations and the fact that they are often held on a global stage, they can and often seem removed from the daily realities of women worldwide. For example, in what ways do resolutions at international conferences, such as CSW and others organised in commemoration of IWD, directly impact the average woman?
It is clear that various issues related to digital violence against women and girls, including the prevalence and forms of violence, its impact on women and girls, and strategies for prevention and response, were discussed during CSW and IWD. As a result, these conversations highlighted the need for a comprehensive and coordinated approach involving multiple stakeholders, including governments, civil society, and the private sector.
Furthermore, at the end of CSW-67, a set of agreed resolutions outlining specific actions and recommendations, like strengthening laws and policies, improving access to services for survivors of violence, and promoting women’s participation and leadership in all aspects of society, etc., were recommended for stakeholders to implement within their constituencies. These efforts were encouraged to remain ongoing at national, regional, and global levels to ensure tangible change and progress towards achieving the SDGs, particularly SDG 5 on gender equality.
While the UN provides the global platform for these important issues to be hashed out, the responsibility for ensuring that the outcomes of these conferences directly impact women’s lives lies with governments, civil society, and the private sector. These actors are responsible for making and implementing policies, often based on the recommendations and resolutions of international conferences and gatherings like the IWD and CSW. However, without action on their part, these global conversations and resolutions cannot translate to measurable changes that impact women worldwide.
As government officials, aid workers, and key decision-makers within the private sector, our roles transcend simply participating in these conferences for the sake of doing so. Instead, our positions require that we galvanise together to create solutions for the specific challenges affecting women within our localities.
Making Lasting and Measurable Impact
In thinking of moving from the global stage to making measurable impact, especially as it concerns this year’s theme on technology and the digital world, it is imperative to keep sight of all the ways that technology can significantly address development and humanitarian challenges.
Technology and the digital revolution have provided innovative solutions to complex problems of development. For example, technology offers enhanced access to information through mobile applications and online platforms that are now used to access information on health, education, and other basic needs. Technology and digital innovation have also increased efficiency in delivering aid through logistics, distribution, and monitoring tools.
As it concerns advancing the rights of women and girls, technology and digital innovation play several crucial roles, including providing and improving access to information, especially those previously unavailable to women and girls. More access to technology for women and girls also means they can learn about their rights, health, and education opportunities relatively more easily. Furthermore, technological advancement has enabled women and girls to access information about financial services, job opportunities, and entrepreneurship, all contributing to their economic empowerment.
Digital technologies have helped women and girls access healthcare services and information, regardless of location. Telemedicine, for example, is being used to connect women living in rural or remote areas to medical professionals where they can receive diagnosis and treatment. This can also improve maternal and child health and reduce maternal mortality rates. Similarly, mobile apps and other digital applications help connect women to markets, business and job opportunities.
It is important to note that technology has also become a tool that amplifies violence against women. So, in our programming and interventions, we want to remain conscious of this fact and ensure that our actions — in trying to create a gender-equal and safer world for women — do not end up endangering the very population that we are seeking to protect. On this front, digital technologies can also be a tool in combating gender-based violence by providing safe spaces for women and girls to report violence and access support. For example, many software applications have now been created to help women quickly alert friends or family in case of emergency or to find safe places within their communities. In Nigeria, many digital platforms and mobile applications including Campus Pal app by Gender Mobile Initiative – a platform for confidential reporting of sexual harassment in tertiary institutions and GBV Tete-a-Tete by CEWHIN – a survivor-centered platform for psychological first aid to survivors of gender-based violence.
Beyond using technology to access lifesaving information, ensuring that women are adequately represented in the digital revolution will prevent us from playing catch up and trying to ensure that more women are represented in tech in years to come. Including women worldwide in tech and digital spaces will require a concerted effort at multiple levels, including government policies, education and training programmes, industry initiatives, and individual actions.
Global Conversations, Local Impact
Increasing the participation of women and girls in tech and digital spaces will require addressing the biases and stereotypes that can hold women back from these spaces. Often conscious and unconscious, efforts should be made to raise awareness of these biases and to promote a more inclusive culture. Our programming can do this by encouraging early exposure to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) for girls and helping them pursue STEM careers through initiatives that provide role models and mentors for them.
Furthermore, women already in tech and digital fields may need additional training and support to advance their careers. In such instances, providing leadership training and mentoring programmes for professional development can be beneficial. Providing mentoring and professional development opportunities can also be useful for creating networks of women in tech and digital fields who support each other.
Finally, we can advocate for policy changes that promote greater gender diversity and inclusion in tech and digital spaces. Initiatives that encourage greater diversity in hiring, funding for programmes that support women in STEM, and policies that promote work-life balance and equal pay are all great examples of policies that can improve the participation of women in tech.
Promoting greater gender diversity and inclusion in tech and digital spaces requires a multifaceted approach involving various stakeholders, from individuals to governments and industry leaders. By constantly adapting relevant recommendations from global events and making them work within local contexts, we can bridge the gap from having global conversations to creating local impact that safeguards women’s rights and increase their participation in the tech and digital ecosystem.
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