The effects the Internet and information and communication technologies (ICTs) have had and can continue to have on the world are undoubtedly huge. A decade ago, a diverse group of stakeholders came together at the UN Conference, “World Summit on the Information Society” (WSIS) to discuss just how Internet and ICTs could change our world. This year, the WSIS met again to consider the deep and wide impact ICT can have for development. Opinions of governments, businesses, civil society, engineers and more were brought together to explore how ICTs and the Internet can catalyze improvement in global diversity and equality, socioeconomic development, disaster preparedness and response, environmental stewardship, and more.
However, there are big barriers to future progress. Digital divides persist along many axes, despite coordinated efforts to remedy them.
One axis of this digital divide is that of gender. The ITU states that for every five men in tech jobs, there is only one woman. The technology ministries of ITU member states are only ten percent women; these countries’ regulatory authorities are only seven percent women. In developing countries, sixteen percent fewer women than men use the internet. The difference is explained by access – both physical and cultural – by education, and by skill training.
Work to address this digital divide continues.
In 2014, UN Women and the ITU teamed up to create the Gender Equality and Mainstreaming in Technology Awards (GEM-Tech) to recognize work done around the world to increase women’s access to and participation in ICTs. iMerit was honored with the 2014 award for Women’s Economic Empowerment for our work changing the lives of young women through tech training and stable tech employment.
Earlier this week, the GEM-Tech awards were presented alongside WSIS+10 discussions and events focused on eliminating the digital gender divide. 2015 Awardees include CCDKM in Thailand, Technovation based in the US, and the Senegal Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications. These organizations are changing the way women engage with the Internet and ICTs, empowering them with the tools to participate in, build, and power the digital economy.
Conversations at the GEM-Tech and WSIS+10 events in New York emphasized the need for action now, and the need to address the digital gender divide from many angles. It is clear that involving development agencies, NGOs and private sector companies is necessary to disrupt the gender divide. Attendees, including Mitchell Baker, Executive Chairwoman at Mozilla, and Minerva Tantoco, CTO of New York City, emphasized a huge need for training women in technology skills and coding all around the world. They also spoke about a need for an attitudinal shift that reverses the narrative about tech being a male-dominated world, and even delved into the need for tech skill training to extend into rural communities globally.
At iMerit, we were excited to see this global resonance and focus on incorporating women in digital jobs, decision making, and leadership. We seconded the need to include the private sector, and harness the huge potential for socioeconomic growth they present to marginalized communities globally. The conversations we had at the GEM-Tech Awards and WSIS+10 side events confirmed the need for the work we’re doing and continued to inspire us.
Only by dismantling the digital divide can we unleash the power of ICTs and the Internet to promote positive global change.