Unquestionably, digitalization is rapidly transforming societies. Unprecedented socio-economic advances can be expected. However, it is generally acknowledged that young women, girls, and gender-diverse youth and adolescents—especially poorer ones in rural areas—are disproportionately and systematically excluded from access to technology.
In 1995, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action embodied the commitment of the international community to achieve gender equality. It examined women’s issues in relation to the environment, violence, the economy, institutional mechanisms, armed conflict, human rights, education, poverty, power, health, media, and more. The Declaration stressed that women should not only benefit from technology, but also participate in technology across various critical areas including education, employment and communication.
In 2020, at the Declaration’s 25th anniversary “review and appraisal,” gender gaps were recognized, and the General Assembly called on states to set priorities to promote gender inclusion in technological development and innovation. Member states pledged to harness “the potential of technology and innovation to improve women’s and girls’ lives and to close the development divide and the digital divide, including the gender digital divide, as well as addressing the risks and challenges emerging from the use of technologies.”
Unquestionably, digitalization is rapidly transforming societies. Unprecedented socio-economic advances can be expected. However, it is generally acknowledged that young women, girls, and gender-diverse youth and adolescents—especially poorer ones in rural areas—are disproportionately and systematically excluded from access to technology. Not surprisingly the theme discussed at the 67th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW67), held at the UN in New York last month, concerned barriers to online civic spaces: specifically, “Innovation and technological change, and education in the digital age for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of ALL women and girls.”
The digital divide in technology
After months of consultations with independent experts, special rapporteurs, and myriad working-groups representing issues of concern as well regional areas, the “CSW Bureau” drafted five recommendations addressing how to strengthen the integration of a gender perspective into a global normative framework on education, technology and innovation in 75pages —consolidated down to 38 pages for delegates to review.
Core issues include the exclusion of women and girls from “STEM” (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and access to technology; the need to introduce and mainstream gender perspectives and analyses, particularly in discussing health technology, international security and cybercrime, business and human rights; the importance of collecting general sex-disaggregated data from industries and urban and rural enterprises, as well as developing more gender-sensitive policies and regulations to address privacy, autonomy, dignity, and safety.
Representatives from hundreds of ECOSOC-accredited non-governmental organizations—including Servas International—registered to attend the “official” UN CSW67 where representatives of UN-member States and UN entities presented information concerning core issues. A series of associated events were organized to enhance discussion and exchanges—in particular with the accredited NGOs.
Recommendations were prepared by many accredited NGOs to be considered for inclusion in the “outcome document” that would consist of a series of new goals and guidelines that would be ratified by the UN body.
In parallel to the CSW67, CSW/NY organized an NGO forum across the street in “The Church”—a building housing 11 stories of non-governmental offices and meeting rooms—where as many as 750 virtual and in-person events were shared with “civil-society”—the public. The events were informative, engaging, and above all inspiring and empowering.
Digital technology was presented as a modality for enabling women and girls to seek help, take action, and make informed and autonomous decisions. On a broader level, digital technology was presented as a vital tool for enabling inclusion, community mobilization, and global connection. I wasn’t able to hear it, but I know Fidele Rutayisire from Servas Rwanda—representing Rwanda Men’s Resource Center (RWAMREC) and MenEngage Alliance—spoke at a session on the work they do with men and boys to transform traditional masculine attitudes that support patriarchal power, and instead ally with women and girls to enhance gender justice.
The word of the day was “intersectionality”—a term that captures how independent factors of advantage and disadvantage overlap each other—resulting in discrimination or privilege.
The intersectionalities often referred to were class, race, and of course gender: the poor, dark-skinned women of the world are at a significant disadvantage even though it is often their resilience that protects communities in emergencies and/or disasters and/or war when institutional responses are not forthcoming.
There was a clear contrast between the decision-making “Your Excellencies”—who presented at the official CSW gatherings—and the grass-roots activists—who presented at the parallel events. At one of thoseevents, a youth leader called out how often the elegant, official agreements, ratified by states, often lacked accountability—often due to political interests. She reminded the audience that it is the activist, grass-roots youth who overthrows regimes!
The UN Secretary General’s October 2022 Report on Women, Peace, and Security stated that:
“The world is experiencing a reversal of generations of gains in women’s rights while violent conflicts, military expenditures, military coups, hunger, and mass displacements continue to increase.”
At CSW67, while the official delegates stressed the need for more investment in gender responsive programs and policies and the need to accelerate such endeavors, the non-governmental delegates with their awesome passion and hunger to network, showed the way. I was very impressed by their strong voices, their insight, their creativity, and enthusiasm. Access to education is vital to promote long-term peace.
Their discussions dealt with everything related to the gendered digital divide from access, gender norms and age stereotypes to denied agency and leadership. Their recommendations included use of all the forward-moving verbs: “recognize …,” “create …,” “develop…,” “ensure …,” “enhance …,” “strengthen …,” “commit …,” “promote …,” “provide,” “enforce …,” etc.
Intersectionality - a gated community
In September 2021, in his report to the 75th session of the UN General Assembly, Secretary-General Guterres set out a vision for the future of global cooperation and how to reinvigorate multilateralism to tackle the interconnected challenges of the 21st century: Our Common Agenda. “Now is the time”, he said, “to break the cycles of inequality and join forces to build an open, safe and equal digital future for the generations to come.”Hopefully the ratified international compact will advance the cause.
I was sorry that I had to return to Florida on the 11th. But all four days in New York were exhilarating! It was also a treat for me to finally meet in person with SI President Rahda Radhakrishna, SI Peace Secretary Francisco Salamón, SI UN Representative Kent Macaulay, and former Peace Secretary Paige LaCombe. See greetings from Paige and other participants here.
Multilateralism: in the form of membership in international institutions, serves to bind powerful nations, discourage unilateralism, and gives small powers a voice and influence that they could not otherwise exercise.
Intersectionality: the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.
Yosi McIntire was the US Servas Peace Secretary from 2020 to 2023, and is a frequent contributor to our Open Doors newsletter. He lives in Saint Augustine, Florida