Today, March 8, 2023 marks this year’s edition of International Women’s Day (IWD 2023), a global holiday celebrated annually as a focal point in the women’s rights movement – bringing attention to issues such as gender equality, reproductive rights, and violence and abuse against women.
IWD 2023’s campaign theme aims to get the world talking about why equal opportunities are no longer enough. Imagine a gender-equal world. A world free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination. A world that is diverse, equitable and inclusive. A world where difference is valued and celebrated.
It is believed that everyone, everywhere, should have the right to access the transformative power of the Internet. Internet access has become an essential part of modern life, necessary to ensure freedom of expression, political participation, health and other fundamental rights.
Internet access provides an invaluable space where marginalised communities initiate social change and identities are created. However, it is estimated that over sixty percent (60 percent) of people around the world – most of them being women and girls – continue to be excluded.
As a cybersecurity analyst who has risen through the ranks, I have realised that women’s chances of benefitting from advantages of the internet and Information Communication Technology are one-third less than men’s; and the gender gap means that 200 million fewer women than men are online.
As we strive toward true gender equality, we know that access to the Internet is critical for women’s empowerment – with several benefits including the possibility for women and girls to build social capital through virtual networks and online associations.
Also, providing a public space to make important information on women’s rights universally available, supporting women to claim and demand their rights as well as creating new possibilities for education and employment for women and girls in the digital economy are equally important.
An important element in the drive to bridge the gender gap is representation of women in technology fields. Currently, women worldwide are under-represented in the various technology fields. Globally, women make up only one-quarter of scientific researchers and only 12 percent of engineers in the world are women.
The number of women in tech worldwide has continued to rise steadily in recent years; however, the number remains very low comparatively. At this current pace, it will take 12 years before women see equal representation in tech. In addition, if you think that sounds bad – at the current pace, it will take more than 200 years until the economic gender gap is closed.
At the end of 2020, women made up nearly 29 percent of the tech workforce, according to data from AnitaB.org (a global organisation for women technologists). Women currently hold only 26.7 percent of tech-related jobs. Tech firms with more than 10,000 employees report women’s representation at 26.2 percent. The percentage of women in all tech-related careers has actually decreased over the last 2 years.
The drop-off rate for more advanced study in these fields among women is generally high due to stereotypes, the dominance of men in IT fields, industry’s lack of policies for inclusion of women, and skills-gaps in STEM areas.
It is important to encourage the promotion of our national policies which focus on women and their career development. National policies should encourage increased access, training and use of the Internet for women and girls. Women should be empowered and encouraged to pursue careers in technology with concrete targets for gender equity in this area.
In addition, various scholarships and grant programmes should be made available to support women in science and technology training and research; and ICT-related business training programmes should target women to promote and assist women tech entrepreneurs.
Over the years, national ICT plans or strategies have included rhetorical commitments to gender equity, but these fail to translate this into concrete, measurable targets backed by resources.
There should be concrete targets for gender equity in ICT access, and they should be backed by specific programmes that have been allocated an adequate budget; and there should be a plan to collect timely gender-disaggregated data to monitor the target. It should be real action and not lip-service!
>>>the writer is President & Founder of Impact Wave Initiative and Chief Executive Officer & President of HKG IT Consulting