The first think piece in I'd blush if I could: closing gender divides in digital skills through education from the EQUALS Skills Coalition shows how complex it is to achieve gender equality in information and communication technologies (ICTs).
Data collected from various sources, including the World Economic Forum's 2018 Global Gender Gap Report, reveal an intriguing and surprising paradox: there is no direct correlation between gender equality levels and the proportion of female students pursuing advanced-level digital skills; and gender-unequal countries have higher female participation in ICTs, sometimes equalling male participation. The report uses the example of Arab States to demonstrate gender-unequal nations that have high levels of female ICT participation.
These findings provide useful insights and provide a basis to make recommendations to tackle the problem of digital gender divide. For instance, countries with higher levels of gender equality— like Norway and Sweden— should use targeted policies to encourage girls and women to pursue ICT-related careers. These countries are thought to have an equal playing field when it comes to men, women and the labour market. However, if women are pursuing studies and careers in ICT at far lower rates than men are, they are unable to compete for these better and often higher-paying jobs.
On the other hand, the fact that women in gender-unequal countries are pursuing degrees in ICTs is not entirely positive — although it may initially appear that way— because many factors prevent them from entering the job market. The patriarchal nature of the least gender-equal States and their inhospitable business environments are barriers that prevent three in four women from pursuing a career in the sector after their studies.
This, however, should not be discouraging. According to World Bank data, high-value service sectors like ICT have a unique ability to provide women access to the labour market. Therefore, the fact that many women are taking a step towards careers in ICTs can contribute to achieving gender equality in less equal countries, including the Arab States. This trend should be seen as an opportunity to bring the necessary changes to the region.
The ICT gender paradox found in the report gives a comprehensive view of the digital gender gap issue. It brings to light the fact that greater access to ICTs will not necessarily result in the development of ICT skills; nor will higher skill levels in ICT necessarily lead to decent jobs for women in the sector for women without commitment from policymakers.
Armed with this information, countries have the responsibility to begin tailoring their policies and initiatives to efficiently address this problem. It is time to dig into the details of this complex issue to come up with innovative solutions.
About the author
Lucas Alves is a Junior Communication Officer at ITU. Born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Lucas graduated in advertising in 2014, and worked at a communications agency for two years.
He left Brazil in 2017 to pursue a Master’s degree in sustainability management in Switzerland, which he completed in 2018. His thesis was on smartphones supply chains and their impact on the countries involved.