Press Statement on International Women’s Day 8 March #IWD2023

Published: 9 Mar 2023

#DigitALL Innovation and Technology for Gender Equality

Digitalisation is a necessary tool for progressive development as it can streamline processes, increase data, access to information and services, and spur innovation, thereby increasing efficiency, access and social progress.

Access to and ownership of digital devices as well as access to the internet, can offer additional employment, income, learning and knowledge opportunities for women and girls, and facilitate sexual and reproductive healthcare and gender based violence responses. Women have also made great contributions to the digital world and have generated and harnessed life changing ideas for other women.

However, digitalisation can also be a pathway of exclusion serving to entrench inequalities. Despite the penetration of technologies in Africa, it is mostly to the exclusion of marginalised and vulnerable women and girls. While the cost of technology remains high and dependent on private contractors who prioritise profit over equality, it serves to widen the digital divide. For example, refugee settlements where IRRI works, are located in underdeveloped and remote locations with poor connectivity and infrastructure. Also, IRRI conducted a study on the refugee right to associate in conjunction with the Refugee Led Organisations Network (RELON) Uganda and Oxfam, that documents challenges refugees face with accessing financial and communication services like bank accounts and sim cards, due to lack of proper identity documentation (without biometrics), and the lack of recognition of such documentation as valid proof of identity, by different authorities. The securitisation of communications has also been a challenge with refugee sim cards being disconnected due to broader regulatory measures, not taking their particular circumstances into consideration.

Digitalisation without inclusiveness and safeguards inculcated, can diminish the dividend of technology and further embed inequalities, leaving people behind especially refugee women and girls, who are left further behind due to the digital gender divide, gender and cultural norms, and their lack of access to and ownership of factors of production. According to UNICEF, “women are more likely than men to borrow or share mobile phones (often within a household or from a male family member) and are rarely the primary owners of a mobile device”.

This #IWD20203, UN Women is 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” and for a “paradigm shift” in order to “harness the potential of technology and innovation to accelerate progress on the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals”. We must #EmbraceEquity and ensure gender-responsive approaches to digitalisation. As stated by UN Women, “[b]ringing women and other marginalized groups into technology results in more creative solutions and has greater potential for innovations that meet women’s needs”.

IRRI is committed to equality and to treating people fairly and levelling the playing field. We at IRRI, are cognisant of our duty to respond to intersectionalities within the communities we serve, ensuring gender and other diversity inclusion, in programming, implementation and the impact of our work, and among implementers, decision-makers and beneficiaries. Whilst there are many instruments that provide for gender equality at national, regional and international levels, a lot of work needs to be done to change the structural, systemic and cultural barriers that prevent women and girls from enjoying rights. This necessitates that IRRI remains conscious to the gender inequalities and power imbalances that may define and impact our work, to ensure that we do not further entrench inequalities and exclusion.

IRRI Executive Director, Achieng Akena asks, “how do we bridge the digitalisation divide when one part of the world is actively using Artificial Intelligence while the other is unable to access the basics of an internet connection or a smart phone?” She adds that “there is an obligation on African governments to deliberately formulate and implement enabling policies and projects that drive equality and inclusion, by for example, ensuring adequate infrastructure for full coverage of internet connectivity, and reducing the cost of accessing technology. For example, the digitalisation of government services, propelled by the COVID lockdowns, has not been achieved in a way that guarantees substantive equality”.

Lawinter Nakitende, an Asssociate at IRRI further stated that, “we must work towards bridging the gap in digital access that is keeping women and girls from unlocking the full potential of digital technologies, by formulating inclusive policies and programmes based on an understanding of the digital realities that engender discrimination and exclusion”.

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Type: Press Release