By Juanita Beltran / GICJ 

On the 9th of March 2023 a side event was organised by the permanent missions of Australia and Malaysia, the University of Peace and UN Women. The topic of the side event was harnessing technology for gender equality, it opened a space to share ideas between the panellists and the public to deepen topics of online regulation, policies to foster women in the technology sector as well as the creation of online safe environments for women to access the internet as a tool for business. 

The event invited panellists from diverse backgrounds. Sulyna Abdullah special advisor to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Secretary General, Kelly Tallon Executive Manager of International Strategy and Futures, safety commissioner, Lennise NG CEO of Dropee and UNCTAD etrade for women advocate, and Adriana Quinones Head of Human Rights and Development in UN Women Geneva. The moderator was David Fernandez, head of the permanent delegation of the University for Peace to the UN and UNESCO.

Adriana Quinones began by introducing some figures on the status of gender equality in the domain of technology. For instance, regarding equality of digital access and competence in the least Developed Countries, only 76% of the population is covered by mobile data but only 25% are online. Of those accessing the internet, men are 52% more likely to be online than women. Similarly, women are 25% less likely than men to have the knowledge and digital skills for basic purposes. At the professional level, 28% of engineering graduates and 22% of artificial intelligence workers are women. When looking at the artificial intelligence systems across industries 44.2% demonstrate gender bias with 25.7% exhibiting both gender and racial bias. Furthermore, in 2020 only 2% of global venture capital was funding startups led by women.  These figures expose a significant gap in the technology sector. 

Following that line of argument, Mrs. Abdullah remarked on the landscape of figures showing gender disparities by bringing up the failure of countries to comply with the agenda of the 1995 World Conference on Women in Beijing, China. According to the panellist, this conference marked an important point for the global agenda for gender equality. However, the ITU has acted as a leader in reducing the causes of the gender divide, investing more than 17 billion dollars to close the gender divide. Also, Mrs. Abdullah recalled different initiatives, such as the global partnership with more than 100 stakeholders, which advocate for parity in the digital space, as well as the promotion of programs that enrich the set of skills of millions of women and girls and their active participation on the internet. 

Mrs. Tallon provided the discussion with examples of legislative measures as a regulator on the internet to protect users from vulnerable groups from harassment and violence. 3 main pillars were identified as contributing to creating a safe environment online. The first pillar involves research and evidence-based education for online safety for a wide range of age groups. This includes resources that put women in the spotlight such as journalists, and employers to prevent online abuse and support workers more broadly. The second pillar encompasses protection when the abuse has taken place. This concerns regulatory reporting services to eliminate threats, such as cyberbullying, cyber abuse targeting an adult to cause harm, and intimate images which are shared without consent. If it's the case that the content meets the legislative threshold, safety services on the internet can alleviate the harm experienced and get the material taken down quickly. Finally, the third legislative pillar is proactive and substantive change by offering tools and guidance to embed in systems in the long run, like the metaverse. The logic here is to analyse windows of opportunity that abusive behaviours have to occur and tackle them. 

Not only in the public sector but also in the private sector is of imperative importance to build bridges and bring together women to boost their economic growth. For these reasons the panellist and CEO of Droppe, Mrs. Lennise addressed the importance of giving women financial credibility to foster their micro and small businesses. The company focuses primarily on allowing them to gain better access to capital and better information to analyse the market and figure out which products to sell. In this way, women are more empowered to pursue a better future. 

The audience also contributed to the discussion. Among the questions raised, one of them pointed out how investments could stop widening the gender digital gap. The panellists summed up their answers with one word: education. Girls from an early stage need to get a set of skills that allows them to make use of digital tools. The government must take part in this process too. Governments have the responsibility to regulate these spaces by creating a safe environment for all users. Along that same line of thought, it was said that investors should also be equipped to help guide the decision-making process they face when creating those environments. There should be a checklist for investors to make sure that companies consider safety as well as gender violence. Another conclusion on that topic was to encourage companies to report on the impact that they see in their companies having the right data to formulate gender-based policies. 

Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ)  welcomes the progress made in the technology sector to close the digital gender gap. However, the exclusion of women in the creation of regulation and the environments themselves must be urgently addressed. It is highly important to educate young women from an early age about the set of skills required to go into science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) sectors, so they can integrate their knowledge into the design of these spaces. Due to the lack of parity in these environments, the racial and gender bias keeps widening the digital gap. For this reason it is of imperative importance that equality is created in developing fields like artificial intelligence or machine learning, so women can break the cycle and thrive innovation into being more diverse. 

Diversity, Women, Women In Technology, STEM, Human Rights, Equality, Parity, participation, internet, GICJ, Geneva4justice

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