Can investing help close the gender digital divide? A report from WIF18
Last week in Geneva, UNCTAD’s World Investment Forum (WIF18) brought together a group of passionate, global pioneers all working towards progressive goals, under the central theme of "Investment in Sustainable Development".
With over 50 events joined by over 5,000 participants, this distinguished platform allowed a number of stakeholders from governmental and international organizations, business, civil societies, academia and visionaries to all come together under one roof, allowing everyone to share and discuss many of the impending issues around sustainable development.
Among the conference stakeholders were EQUALS partners, including UNCTAD, UN Women, ITU, and GSMA. Women’s WorldWide Web, who were Skills category finalists for the 2018 EQUALS in Tech Awards, were prominent participants at the conference.
Throughout the sessions, the intersection of gender and technology featured as a main point of discussion. Each of the sessions – although different in subject – shared a common focus on the ways that equal access to digital skills and education can improve overall gender equality.
Women’s lack of economic stability due to societal barriers, and lack of access to funding, has a direct impact on women entrepreneurs and women in the digital sphere. In her session on "Women Entrepreneurship and the SDGs", Lindsey Nefesh-Clarke (founder of W4) had this to say:
"Today, there is an alarming digital gender divide, and we know it’s only getting wider."
Nefesh-Clarke focused on solutions to this growing problem, saying "We are thrilled that there is EQUALS, a global coalition to push the agenda forward for governments and companies. We would like to see EQUALS backed with more resources.... Today we have a plethora of solutions: EQUALS’ work, the G20, lots of wonderful initiatives, but it’s urgent we take action collectively across all sectors to ensure girls’ and women’s digital inclusion and equality is met in order to unleash this immense potential of women digital entrepreneurs."
With stakeholders poised and ready to take action, it is critical to find specific leverage points to make real, sustainable change. Nefesh-Clarke offered ideas and perspectives:
"We must first invest in skills – when women and girls have access to ICT infrastructure and the chance to acquire additional skills, they will create their own innovative solutions, products and services, to improve their own and their families’ well-being and that of their communities. And they will make the world a better place."
When it comes to financing for women's entrepreneurial efforts, Nefesh-Clarke offered a bleak picture of the current status:
"We need to urgently address the issue of access to financing. The figures speak for themselves: In 2016 across Europe women-owned ventures accessed approximately 5%. I think everyone in this room would agree that that is dismal, which is the word that EQUALS rightly uses in their report. We need to do better."
Nefesh-Clarke continued, "Gender and ICT need to be integrated across the board. 87% of ICT ministers are men. We have a lack of female perspective. Let’s not be surprised by the distortions of AI when women are not creating those products. We need to have more women in tech and leadership positions, policy making, within the tech industry… but also in governmental institutions.”
Whether examining women’s access to funds, the lack of women’s perspective within companies, the paucity of resources for women entrepreneurs, or women’s access to tech and overall education, WIF18 confirmed that the gender digital divide is neither just a gender issue nor just a tech issue, but a larger sustainable development issue.
Melina Gaglia is a communications intern at EQUALS.
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