UN Commission calls for closing the digital gender gap

TANZANIA – The United Nations’ main global body fighting for gender equality on Saturday called for sweeping efforts to close the gap between men and women in today’s technology-driven world, urging zero tolerance of gender-based violence and online harassment.

In a document adopted by consensus after nights of negotiations at the end of a two-week session, the Commission on the Status of Women expressed deep concern about the interrelationship between offline and online violence, harassment and discrimination against women and girls – and beyond condemned the increase in these acts.

It called for a significant increase in public and private sector investment to bridge the digital gender divide. It also called for the removal of barriers to equal access to digital technology for all women and girls, as well as new policies and programs to achieve gender equality in emerging scientific and technological fields.

Sima Bahous, executive director of UN Women, a United Nations body focused on gender equality and empowerment, called the document “groundbreaking” in promoting a blueprint for a more equal and connected world for women and girls. The challenge now is for governments, the private sector, civil society and young people to turn the blueprint into a reality for all women and girls.

At the start of the commission’s two-week meeting, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said their focus is very timely as women and girls are left behind as technology advances.

“Three billion people are still not connected to the internet, the majority of them women and girls in developing countries, (and) in least developed countries only 19% of women are online,” Guterres said. “Globally, girls and women make up only a third of science, technology, engineering and math students,” and in the tech industry, men outnumber women by two to one.

Bahous said at the launch event that “the digital divide has become the new face of gender inequality,” with 259 million more men online than women last year. She also cited a survey of women journalists from 125 countries that found three quarters had experienced online harassment in the course of their work and a third had engaged in self-censorship in response.

The “Agreed Conclusions” document, adopted by the 45-member commission on Saturday, calls for equal education for women and girls in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, information and communication technology and digital literacy so that they can rapidly changing world can be successful.

During lengthy negotiations over the 93-paragraph document, UN diplomats said women’s rights language has been challenged by Russia, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Holy See, and human rights language has also been challenged by those countries, as well as Cuba and China in question. There was also intense debate about the language on gender-based violence facilitated by technology, they said, speaking on condition of anonymity as negotiations concluded.

The outcome document reaffirms the 1995 Beijing Platform, adopted by 189 countries and stating for the first time in a UN document, that women’s human rights include the right “about matters related to their sexuality, including their sexual and reproductive health , free to control and decide from discrimination, coercion and violence.”

The last point stumbling the consensus was Pakistan’s insistence on including a reference to “foreign occupation” in the document and Israel’s strong resistance, diplomats said. The reference was not included and before adopting the document, the representative of Pakistan expressed regret that the needs and priorities of women from developing countries facing humanitarian crises, including foreign occupation, were not taken into account.

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https://www.local10.com/news/politics/2023/03/19/un-commission-calls-for-closing-the-gender-digital-divide/ UN Commission calls for closing the digital gender gap

Sarah Y. Kim

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