EQUALS began in 2014 as a collaboration between ITU and UN Women. The GEM-TECH Awards, as EQUALS was initially called, sought to “create a platform for advancing women's meaningful engagement with ICTs and their role as decision-makers and producers within this sector” by recognizing organizations that worked towards increasing women and girls’ presence in digital spaces, facilitating their access to new technologies and encouraging them to consider studies and careers in ICT.
In line with the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), GEM-TECH donors realized that the programme needed a longer-term framework, not only to recognize trailblazers working to bring gender equality to the digital sector, but also to promote and provide institutional support to such work.
ITU subsequently conducted a global assessment and discovered that despite numerous existing initiatives to address the digital gender divide, women and girls still lagged behind in access, skills and leadership, which hindered efforts to achieve SDG 5, and more specifically Target 5B.
In response to the survey findings, UN Women and ITU created coalitions to improve women and girls’ skills and access to technology, and facilitate female leadership in the sector. A research group, comprised of universities and other research institutions, was also created to provide the coalitions with empirical evidence to ensure relevance and efficiency in their activities.
In 2016, GSMA, UNESCO, the International Trade Centre and the United Nations University joined ITU and UN Women, and the five founding partners inaugurated the three coalitions and the research group. The following year, the steering committee was formalized to provide EQUALS partners with strategic leadership. In 2018, the G20 recognized the EQUALS Global Partnership, underscoring its importance to achieving a sustainable future for all.
Today, EQUALS boasts 100+ partners dedicated to closing the gender digital divide.
 Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
 Enhance the use of enabling technology, in particular information and communications technology, to promote the empowerment of women