Closing the Connectivity Gap

For over a decade, the GSMA has been working to close the digital gender gap. Our Connected Women Programme is currently helping to enable the digital and financial inclusion of millions of women around the world. Collaboration is key to the realisation of such ambitions, so we are proud to be a Founding Partner and the Access Coalition Chair of EQUALS, a global partnership committed to bring tech to women and women to tech.

Doreen Bogdan-Martin, the Chief of the ITU’s Strategic Planning and Membership Department, conceived of EQUALS and her leadership has been critical in bringing together key stakeholders to accelerate progress towards digital gender equality. In a conversation with Mats Granryd, Doreen outlines how closing the digital gender divide will boost connectivity and help deliver against the targets of the Sustainable Development Goals.

1. Why is the digital gender divide an important issue?

A tool for economic, social, and cultural empowerment, information and communications technology (ICT) is key to achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Connectivity can be use to access, conveniently and at low cost, a wide range of vital services, including telemedicine, education and the latest scientific information. If women and girls can’t access ICT, we will not achieve SDG 5 (Gender Equality), nor any of the other goals.

The digital gender divide has many dimensions – a lack of women in the tech sector, a lack of women leaders in the tech sector, a lack of women creating content in the tech sector, a lack of women and girls studying STEM (science, technology, engineering or mathematics), and fewer women and girls with access to mobile phones and the Internet.

2. What do you see as the primary challenges to closing the digital gender divide?

One of the main challenges is the lack of female role models to attract and support more women in the technology sector.

In terms of connectivity, we need to ensure both handsets and services are affordable, content is relevant and in local languages, the digital environment is safe, and that women and girls have the digital skills they need to benefit from the opportunities that connectivity offers.

3. How are you addressing these challenges?

We are bringing attention to the gender gap, recognising success stories and best practices and fostering global collaboration. For example, I started the Equals in Tech awards programme (previously known as Gem-Tech) to showcase initiatives around the world that are closing the gap. I also launched the gender dashboard at the ITU as a means to track women’s participation in the tech sector and in ITU conferences and meetings. If we can measure the gap, we can close it.

4. What do you see as key to successfully addressing the digital gender gap?

Leadership and political will. We need to be making measurable commitments and implementing them, while focussing on scaling and replicating success stories.

5. What do you see as the role of the private sector in overcoming the digital divide?

The private sector should invest in women and girls, from start-ups to skills training, and it should employ more women at all levels. Companies can engage school age girls (e.g. through Girls in ICT day) to help attract them to STEM studies and eventually tech careers.

6. How important are public-private sector partnerships?

Essential. No stakeholder group can do this alone. The public and private sectors must work together to close this gap.

7. With EQUALS you have built an effective cross-sector coalition to streamline international debate on gender issues and to fast-track practical solutions. What were the main challenges in establishing the coalition, and how did you overcome them?

We created EQUALS following the Broadband Commission’s recommendations on how to close the digital gender divide. A bottom-up effort, EQUALS is an open call to all stakeholders involved in closing the access, skills or leadership gap.

The main challenge was getting entities to share and then agree to work together for a common purpose. One cornerstone of EQUALS is our insistence on evidence-based actions. To that end, the research track has brought more than 30 academic and research institutes together to share research and study the gaps.