The rapidly expanding economies and their transformation towards digitalization has decentralized decision making. It has catalysed democratisation of economies by increasing communication, providing transparency and access to information. But the fulcrum on which the digitalization of economies turn into a lopsided transition rests on exclusivity of gender and related disparities. The masculine stereotype, especially in the fields of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) has widened the already existing skill gap and increased the precarity in jobs for women and other intersecting identities. The marginal representation in technical fields has also exacerbated the gender bias in Machine Learning (ML) systems and Automated Decision Making (ADM) in social and welfare services. This coupled with insufficient data and research on the implications of information and communication technologies (ICT) for intersectional identities has contributed towards this grave imbalance. According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) there are about 2.7 billion estimated people currently unconnected to internet services and the majority are women and girls. It also suggests that the gap is more pronounced in developing countries due to inequitable access to education and societal taboos. However, it is interesting to note that the digital divide persists irrespective of a country’s overall ICT access, economic performance or the overall income levels. Hence, there is no one panacea for eliminating such inequalities.
The existing research in this field has for decades discounted the status disaggregation which could give a better and holistic picture of finer degrees of interacting identities such as sexuality, education or disability. The role of binary sex disaggregation in the research field has led to an obscure and uninvestigated picture of an already imbalanced world of digital transformation.
G20 and the progress in digital gender divide
Different International platforms have discussed the role of gender equality in various capacities. In the 2012 Los Cabos summit of the G20 (the Group of 20) nations, women for the first time, found their place in the G20 commitment list. The two commitments (“removing barriers preventing women from full economic and social participation and advance gender equality”) out of a comprehensive list of 180 commitments became a watershed highlight but were seen as a drop in the bucket. So, despite the fact that the Summit made progress toward putting women on paper, more work had to be done to integrate them into the G20 process. In order to assist the promotion of gender-inclusive economic growth and to narrow the gap in labour force participation rates between men and women by 25%, W20 (Women 20) was established as a G20 engagement group in 2015, under Turkey’s G20 leadership. In 2016, the G20’s Ministerial Declaration on the Digital Economy urged the nations to support initiatives that would aid in closing the gender digital divide by cooperating with the Developing Working Group (DWG). Thereafter, the G20 started the #eSkills4Girls project in 2017 while Germany held the G20 Presidency, with the goal of bridging the gender digital divide already present in Lower and Middle Income Countries. Finally, it was the Argentinian and Saudi Arabian presidencies in the G20 which contributed to making the necessity for closing the gender gap in digital financial inclusion more apparent.
Despite the commitments undertaken by the G20 nations, the exclusion of the intersecting identities has left many bottlenecks unresolved. The corroboration from G20 towards bridging the digital divide is still at a nascent stage. It is imperative for the forum to collaborate across its working groups in order to understand the needs and leverage its outreach to bridge the existing digital divide. The G20’s global embeddedness plays an important role in garnering political backing and advancing development strategies that could connect distinctive potentials among nations. With India recently getting the G20 presidency, it is crucial to discuss solutions that can include women and other intersecting identities in the digital ecosystem with the help of G20’s Development Working Group (DWG).
What can be done?
- The W20 (Women 20) engagement group should break the shackles of binaries and include different intersecting identities in its representation to mainstream discussions on the existing digital divide. This will help in translating ideas and plausible solutions across the spectrum into G20 Leaders’ Declaration as commitments that will promote gender neutral digitalization.
- It is also recommended to create a task force that will monitor policies and future redressal plans of the G20 nations. While several G20 countries have included a gender focus in their digital literacy initiatives, but none, have set formal targets or really kept track of progress. The task force can become a catalyst in stocktaking policies and programmes in the G20 member countries. Focus should also be given to collecting data that is disaggregated by sexual orientation and status instead of just gender. This will benefit in tracking the progress and will leave no scope for masking disparities (including the LGBTQI+ communities).
- Utilizing collaborations with businesses and non-governmental organisations to develop and implement digital literacy initiatives can bolster digital equality. This can be done through contributing to the removal of socio-cultural barriers and enabling communities to participate in society and seize economic possibilities through transfer of skills from one community member to another, particularly other women.
The democratic relevance of digital tools in today’s world has empowered people and impelled responses to difficult global concerns, while facilitating communication. It is crucial that no one is left behind, especially the marginalised, in the endeavour to create inclusive digital future. It will be the policies and commitments of the present that will determine what the future holds for women and the other intersecting identities.
Author Bio: Shiren Pandita is a Research Associate with The Energy and Resources Institute