The first week of the CSW67 has been an event-filled and fruitful experience. There’s been challenging discussions, insightful side events, and a celebration of International Womens Day.
Under the theme “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality”, UN Women, the United Nations, and its partners and allies around the world celebrated International Women’s Day (IWD) on 8 March 2023, calling on governments, activists and the private sector to “power on” in their efforts to shape a safer, more inclusive, and more equitable digital world for all. A paradigm shift was needed to harness the potential of technology and innovation to accelerate progress on the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres emphasized in his message to commemorate the Day that “women today make up under a third of the workforce in science, technology, engineering, and maths. And when women are under-represented in developing new technologies, discrimination may be baked in from the start”. He also issued a call to close the gender digital divide, adding that “investing in women uplifts all people, communities, and countries”.
The disparity between women and men and girls and boys in relation to digital adoption and their relative opportunities to access, use, and benefit from digital technology remain a major barrier to equal participation in tech design and governance. Women and girls remain underrepresented across the creation, use, and regulation of technology. They are less likely to use digital services or enter tech-related careers, and significantly more likely to face online harassment and violence. This limits not only their own digital empowerment but also the transformative potential of technology and innovation as a whole.
In her statement for IWD, UN Women Executive Director Sima Bahous said: “Women and girls have just as much right to access the digital world and prosper in it as men and boys. Their creativity, knowledge and perspectives can shape a future where technology contributes to transforming social norms, amplifying women’s voices, pushing forward against online harassment, preventing the perpetuation of algorithmic biases, and distributing the benefits of digitalization as the great equalizer to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.”
She added: “Our vision of equality, of what our world could be, for all of us, can and will include the equal enjoyment of the fruits of technology and innovation without fear of violence or abuse of any sort. Women and girls must be able to engage, create, learn and work, safely and productively either online or offline, making the most of all the opportunities in every sphere of life and at every stage of it, in education, in the economy, in society and in politics.”
A global analysis of 133 AI systems across industries found that 44.2 per cent demonstrated gender bias. The voices of women, girls, and other marginalized groups, historically sidelined or altogether absent in tech spaces, were urgently needed in decision-making processes. Gender-responsive digital technology represented an unprecedented opportunity for the global empowerment of women, to eliminate all forms of disparity and inequality in the digital age, and to transform innovation ecosystems.
Faith and Government for female protection on the internet.
The advent of mobile phones had brought the world to our fingertips, but the digital revolution left many women and girls behind, and some were even subjected to new forms of violence. On 9 March, an event was held at the UN in New York, which highlighted how faith-based actors worked with governments and international organizations to make the digital world safer.
The rise of digital technologies, particularly mobile phones, has revolutionized the way we interact with one another. However, it has also brought new challenges to those striving for women’s empowerment and the eradication of sexual and gender-based violence, including cyberbullying, sexting, stalking, and grooming.
A CSW67 United Nations event on 9 March highlighted the efforts of faith-based actors, in collaboration with governments and international organizations, to combat cyber violence and create a safer digital world for women and girls. The event, titled “A phone of my own: sexual and economic empowerment in times of crisis,” was hosted by ACT Alliance and the Lutheran World Federation, co-sponsored by the governments of Finland and Liberia, and supported by other Christian groups in the field of technological innovation. It took place during the 67th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW67), with the participation of the UN Population Fund.
One of the panellists, Laura Chacón Gonzales, noted that digital violence is not an isolated phenomenon but part of a larger context of gender discrimination and systemic violence. She provided examples of women human rights defenders in Colombia being targeted online, and the social media campaign against the Plebiscite for Peace in Colombia, which went against progress on women’s rights. Chacón spoke of LWF’s work with vulnerable Afro-Caribbean and indigenous women on Colombia’s Pacific coast, who were provided with mobile phones, data plans, and training to document and report abuses and access resources.
Deepti Bharthur highlighted the importance of providing women and girls with meaningful access to mobile phones and the necessary tools and knowledge to navigate the online world safely. In rural southeast India, her organization empowers young girls to challenge traditional gender norms and demand greater protection from local authorities. In urban areas, girls produce their own radio programs to voice their concerns and share solutions.
Busani Lunga, a gender activist in Zimbabwe, spoke of the enduring culture of patriarchy in his country, which requires addressing gender violence not only in churches but also within wider society. Maryam Torosyan, the creator of the ‘Safe You Armenia’ mobile phone application, discussed how it provides emergency assistance and safe spaces for peer discussions for women in neighbouring countries, including minority groups.
Other speakers emphasized the need for governments, tech companies, and legislators to take concrete steps to close the digital gender gap and combat all forms of cyber violence against women and girls. The UN Population Fund called for legal and policy frameworks to ensure access to digital services and information without fear of harm, and Liberia’s Minister for Gender, Children, and Social Protection encouraged investment in education and women’s empowerment.
Other Side events.
Side events were held this past week and these two were especially interesting as they focused on efforts and progress made in stopping female genitalia mutilation (FGM).
The First Lady of Liberia, Her Excellency Clar Marie Weah, delivered a keynote address on the 7th of March where she urged countries to prioritize and support grassroots innovations in preventing and controlling Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs), particularly among women and girls. At the side-event titled “Gender Equity and Rights in the Prevention and Control of NCDs: The Role of Digital Health”, Mrs. Weah emphasized that grassroots innovations can identify local communities’ clear needs and gaps and promote equitable, inclusive, and sustainable solutions for NCDs prevention and control.
Mrs. Weah found it alarming, heartbreaking, and unacceptable that NCDs are a leading cause of death globally, resulting in 150 million premature deaths among people aged 30 to 70, mainly in developing countries. She passionately pleaded that there is an urgent need to accelerate progress through research, innovation, data, and digital solutions to foster collaboration. She also stressed the urgent need to develop the collective will to effectuate change through research, innovation, data, and digital solutions.
Mrs. Weah shared efforts by the office of the First Lady of Liberia through the “She’s You Movement” to ensure that girls and women in Liberia have better access to healthcare, addressing gender disparities and inequalities. Liberia’s Minister of Gender, Children, and Social Protection, Hon. Williametta E. Saydee Tarr, also spoke at the side event, saying that while Digital Health is still being piloted in Liberia, it is helping to improve efficiency in reducing the timespan and boosting the accuracy of health interventions, enhancing communication and trust between patients and health workers, and improving the timeliness and accuracy of health reports.
The side event was organized by the World Health Organization (WHO) and co-hosted by Liberia and The Gambia, on the margins of the 67th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women. The First Lady of The Gambia, Her Excellency Fatoumatta Bah-Barrow, graced the event, which brought together panellists and participants from different regions worldwide, including doctors and Digital Health experts, diplomats, and university students.
In a separate event, Liberia showcased its progress in ending Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), emphasizing the significant achievements made while gathering the necessary technical and financial support to sustain the gains and ensure the passage of an Anti-FGM Law. The event specifically highlighted the participatory process that paved the way for eradicating FGM in Liberia.
The panel discussion involved various stakeholders, including female practitioners who shared their perspectives on addressing FGM holistically and the way forward towards ending the practice in Liberia.
The main objective of the event was to create a platform for mobilizing support to sustain the gains made in ending FGM in Liberia. The Liberian delegation utilized networking opportunities to strengthen the global network of Liberian women and enhance their social capital to garner support for the implementation of earmarked programs and projects intended to end FGM. This would further advance gender equality through the promotion of women’s economic empowerment, sexual and reproductive health and rights, and access to infrastructure.
Another event was organized by a coalition of nations and organizations, including Burkina Faso, Canada, Egypt, Italy, Zambia, the European Union, UNFPA and UNICEF. They all came together to tackle the issue of harmful practices against women and girls. Under the theme “Harmful practices: Catalyzing Innovation to End Female Genital Mutilation and Child Marriage”, a High-Level Panel was organized to provide a platform for key stakeholders to share and discuss the potential of innovation and technological change in achieving gender equality and the Sustainable Development Goals.
The main objective of the panel was to reaffirm commitments to investing in the elimination of harmful practices, particularly female genital mutilation and child marriage, as called for by Target 5.3 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Through the sharing of experiences and innovative solutions, the panel aimed to identify challenges and success factors that could help close the gender digital divide and accelerate progress in ending these harmful practices.
The event brought together experts and advocates from around the world to address these pressing issues and provided a platform for meaningful dialogue and collaboration.
With the commitment and cooperation of these stakeholders, there is hope that the practice of female genital mutilation and child marriage will soon be eradicated, creating a brighter future for women and girls everywhere.
The CSW67 is being held in New York from 6th March to 17th March. Distinguished envoys from Member States, esteemed UN entities, and distinguished non-governmental organizations (NGOs) accredited by ECOSOC from all corners of the globe are cordially invited to lend their valuable insights to the upcoming session. Subsequent to the Commission’s thorough deliberation on the priority theme during its 67th session, the fruit of the collective efforts will manifest in the form of mutually agreed conclusions, to be meticulously negotiated by all Member States.