UN’s commission on women opens amid vanishing progress on rights
Closing the major gender gap in innovation and technology is the focus of the 67th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), which opened at UN Headquarters in New York on Monday.
Over the next two weeks, participants from across the world – including representatives from governments, the UN, civil society and youth groups, as well as activists – will examine how gender equality, empowerment and sustainable development can be achieved in the digital era.
The meeting, known as CSW67, will also highlight online violence and other dangers women and girls face, as well as the need for quality education in the information age.
Perpetuating existing inequalities
In her opening remarks, CSW67 Chair Mathu Joyini said although digital technologies are rapidly transforming societies, they are also giving rise to profound new challenges that may perpetuate and deepen existing gender inequalities.
“Gender-based discrimination is a systemic problem that has been interwoven into the fabric of our political, social and economic lives, and the technology sector is no different,” she said.
“However, this is compounded when you consider the multiple factors that impact and exacerbate this inherent discrimination.”
UN Secretary-General António Guterres noted that the CSW is meeting as progress on women’s rights is vanishing – including in countries such as Afghanistan, where women and girls have been, in effect, erased from public life – and as gender equality is growing ever more distant.
“Your focus this year on closing gender gaps in technology and innovation could not be more timely. Because as technology races ahead, women and girls are being left behind,” he said.
“The math is simple: without the insights and creativity of half the world, science and technology will fulfil just half their potential,” he added.
Step up education
As gender inequality is ultimately a question of power, the Secretary-General called for urgent action in three areas, starting with increasing education, income and employment for women and girls, particularly in the Global South.
Furthermore, women’s and girls’ full participation and leadership in science and technology must also be promoted.
Catalyst for transformation
Mr. Guterres said the international community must also create a safe digital environment for women and girls, outlining his third point. In this regard, the UN is working to advance a code of conduct for information integrity on digital platforms, aimed at reducing harm and increasing accountability.
The Secretary-General stressed that promoting women’s full contributions to science, technology and innovation is not an act of charity or a favour to women, but a “must” that benefits everyone.
“The Commission on the Status of Women is a dynamo and catalyst for the transformation we need. Together, let’s push back against the push back on misogyny, and forward for women, girls, and our world,” he said.
Still a minority
The world needs women’s expertise to address complex and interlocking crises, such as climate change, conflict, poverty, hunger and water scarcity, said the President of the UN General Assembly, Csaba Kőrösi.
However, he noted that women are still a minority in digital information technology, computing, physics, mathematics and engineering, and account for less than 35 per cent of the global information and communications technology workforce.
“They are 20 per cent less likely than men to use the internet – but 27 times more likely to face online harassment or hate speech, when they do. New technologies, if used well, offer a strong and equalizing force to rapidly change this state of affairs,” he said in a video message.
‘Game-changers’ for women
Sima Bahous, Executive Director of UN Women, was among other senior officials who addressed the CSW opening ceremony.
She said the digital revolution offers the potential for unprecedented improvement in the lives of women and girls, and at a time when progress towards sustainable development is at risk.
“Harnessed effectively, technology and innovation, can be game-changers to catalyse poverty reduction, decrease hunger, boost health, create new jobs, mitigate climate change, address humanitarian crises, improve energy access and make entire cities and communities safer and more sustainable – benefitting women and girls,” she said.
Given the pace of change, Ms. Bahous underlined the need for “a global normative framework” to mobilize technology towards achieving gender equality. She expressed confidence that the meeting will underscore that “digital rights are women’s rights”.
Safeguards, opportunities and investment
The CSW has met annually since 1946, but this is the first in-person gathering since 2019, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
A special segment will be held where young people will discuss the priority themes, marking another first in the Commission’s history.
Ms. Joyini, the CSW Chair, also outlined some of the objectives of this latest session in her opening remarks.
“We will consider the responsibilities of governments and private sector in ensuring that adequate safeguards, norms and standards exist, and women and girls’ fundamental rights are not violated while using digital technologies,” she said.
There will be calls also to provide more opportunities for women in innovation, as well as funding and investment, and to eliminate algorithms that perpetuate and deepen existing discrimination and biases.
CSW67 will conclude on Friday, 17 March, and dozens of side events are also scheduled in the interim.
They include the UN Secretary-General’s annual dialogue with women’s and feminist civil society groups, a youth forum where particular focus will be given to grassroots and community voices, and a discussion on promoting women’s and girls’ equal social, economic and political rights in Afghanistan.