In March, the GSMA joined the 67th Session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). CSW is the UN’s largest annual gathering where gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls are discussed by governments, the private sector, civil society organisations and UN entities.
The 67th Session of CSW focused, for the first time, on the critical role of technology, innovation and education in the digital age for achieving gender equality. This theme could not be more timely, as digital technologies are profoundly transforming societies, but women are disproportionately excluded: The GSMA’s latest data indicates that women in low- and middle-income countries are 19% less likely than men to use mobile internet and 17% less likely than men to own a smartphone. The United Nations Secretary General António Guterres warned that it will take 300 years to achieve gender equality at the current rate of progress.
The two-week long session culminated in the publication of a set of recommendations aimed at closing the digital gender divide. These conclusions, adopted by Member States, provide a blueprint for all stakeholders to promote gender equality in the digital age. The GSMA played a key part in these discussions and consultations, and co-hosted three CSW side-events, while also contributing to three additional high-level events.
Innovation and technological change for achieving gender equality: Commonwealth perspectives and pathways
On 7 March, the GSMA co-hosted a roundtable on digital empowerment in partnership with the Commonwealth and the Commonwealth Businesswomen Network, where it shared best practices from across the region. Zainab Hussain Siddiqui, Vice President and Head of Sustainability at Telenor Group, also shared Telenor’s experience of the GSMA’s Connected Women Commitment Initiative and the progress achieved so far in reaching women with mobile internet. Other speakers included the Deputy Secretary General of the Commonwealth H.E., Dr Arjoon Suddhoo, as well as representatives of Oxentia and Soroptimist International.
Digital Skills for Life: Building the talent pipeline of girls and women to benefit in the digital economy
On 9 March, as Co-Chair of the EQUALS Skills Coalition, the GSMA led discussions around the topic of Digital Skills for Life. The governments of Australia, Bulgaria and Canada, as well as representatives from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), UN Women, the Enhanced Integrated Framework and the Association for Progressive Communications, shared their expertise on building the talent pipeline of girls and women to benefit the digital economy. The GSMA highlighted in particular the impact of its joint EQUALS Her Digital Skills initiative, emphasising the need for gender transformative digital skills education, as well as its Mobile Internet Skills Training Toolkit (MISTT), in order to close the digital skills gap.
Empowering women micro-entrepreneurs in the digital economy
On 10 March, the GSMA led a high-level side-event on Empowering women micro-entrepreneurs in the digital economy together with the Government of The Philippines, ITU and The International Trade Centre. This session facilitated a discussion about the challenges and opportunities for empowering women micro-entrepreneurs through mobile, and featured keynotes from the GSMA’s Director General, Mats Granryd, as well as ITU’s Secretary General, Doreen Bogdan-Martin, who highlighted how ITU, through Partner2Connect, is working to address the various digital gender gaps. Representatives from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and BBVA Foundation also shared their experience and expertise.
The GSMA shared its unique insights and recommendations by speaking at multiple CSW side-events
The GSMA was also a speaker at various partners sessions including the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) side-event on Digitalization for Gender Equality and Rural Women’s Empowerment, the Women’s Digital Financial Inclusion Advocacy Hub partners meeting and at a closed door discussion on Examining the Broken Rung for Women in STEM, co-hosted by the UN Foundation, LinkedIn and Microsoft.
The urgent need for action
Throughout the conference, the urgent need for action to reduce the gender digital divide was widely shared. As women are being left behind in an increasingly digital age, it is critical that all stakeholders work together to:
- Ensure there is a focus on gender equality and reaching women at an organisational and policy level through senior leaders championing the issue and setting specific gender equity targets.
- Understand the mobile gender gap by improving the quality and availability of gender-disaggregated data and understanding of women’s needs and the barriers to mobile ownership and use.
- Explicitly address women’s needs, circumstances and challenges in the design and implementation of mobile-related products, services, interventions and policies.
- Collaborate and partner with different stakeholders to address the mobile gender gap.
Specific recommendations for policymakers can be found in the GSMA’s Connected Women policy report here.
The GSMA is committed to working with partners and stakeholders on addressing the digital gender divide and looks forward to collaborating with the Government of the Philippines as incoming Chair of the 68th Session of CSW in 2024.
The Connected Women programme is funded by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), and is supported by the GSMA and its members.