[Read more session reports from the WSIS Forum 2018]
The session was organised by L’Organisation pour la Communication en Afrique et de Promotion de la Cooperation Economique Internationale (OCAPROCE) and aimed to address the digital gender divide.
Mr Hassane Boukili, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Morocco to the United Nations in Geneva, stressed the importance of women in the African transition to democracy. He wondered how technology could contribute to women’s emancipation in Africa. According to him, the use of technology is not equal for women and men. There is a governance on the use of technology and that is not led by women. The African continent has been experiencing for decades a political transformation in which democratic values are emergent. At the same time, economic development has been happening. It seems to be the right opportunity to include women in these transformations. Until now, African civil society has not pushed women into the world of information and technology.
Ms Carla Licciardello, a policy analyst with the International Telecommunication Union’s (ITU) strategic planning membership department, has worked on digital inclusion, to bridge the gender divide. According to her, data has demonstrated that there is a gender divide in the digital economy, and this gap is bigger in Africa than on other continents. The gender digital gap motivated the creation of Equals, a global partnership of governments, private sector leaders, NGOs, communities and individuals, collaborating to promote gender equality in information and communication technology (ICT). Equals has five cofounders: the ITU, UN Women, the United Nations University (UNU), the International Trade Centre (ITC) and the GSMA. Equals analyses the gender divide from three different perspectives: access, skills and leadership in ICT. Its main goal is to reduce the Internet gap between women and men, integrating gender into public policy and improving digital literacy.
Princess Micheline Makou Djouma, OCAPROCE’s president, started by affirming that women and girls are the most left behind in the technological revolution. They have little knowledge in ICT and English, which prevents them from participating in that revolution. In Africa, they are mostly active in the agriculture sector. In addition, women have culturally and historically more family responsibilities. African women have fewer opportunities than those living in Europe, because they are less educated. In Africa, it is a challenge to actualise the different human rights conventions that establish women’s rights.
Ms Valerie Bichelmeier, UN representative for Make Mothers Matter, moderated the session and emphasised that 52% of the world population do not have access to the Internet. This problem is more concentrated in developing countries. One out of ten people have access to the Internet in Africa. Women are 12% less likely to have access to the Internet than men.
Mrs Scarlet Founder, associate economic affairs officer at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), addressed the participation of women in the digital economy. In recent years, e-commerce and digitalisation have been the main topics discussed at the G20 meetings. It has been recognised that ICT is a fundamental requirement to achieve the sustainable development goals and that there is a gender divide in the ICT environment. In terms of the economic empowerment, the role of women is still limited in the digital economy. Women are especially under-represented in digital business and in the higher value economy. They are not ICT producers. According to UNCTAD, ICT professionals are 16% women worldwide. In the USA, which is a developed economy, the share of women in computer occupations is 23%.
Mr François Schmitt, professor representing the World Organization of Prenatal Education Associations (OMAEP), emphasised that education is necessary for the emancipation of women. Without education, it is impossible to have sustainable development. Ms Astrid Stuckelberger, professor at the Université de Genève and an expert on public health at the UN and the EU, stressed that science and technology will revolutionise the world, but will also deepen inequality. Mr Abdel Wahab Hani, a UN expert, concluded by stating that technology and connectivity have been proved to be a ‘fantastic tool’ to emancipate women, especially in countries such as Tunisia. He added that information technology (IT) should not be conceived without liberty, and human rights movements have a lot to learn about IT in order to use it as an instrument to emancipate human beings.
By Ana Corrêa