International Women's Day Statement by UN Resident Coordinator, Mr. Charles Abani
At the launch of IWD in Accra, the UN RC, Mr. Charles Abani, in a statement read on his behalf, called for a concerted effort to close the digital divide.
Thank you for the invitation to deliver a brief message on behalf of the UN System in Ghana to officially mark the 2023 International Women’s Day (IWD). I would like to thank the Ministry of Gender and partners for bringing stakeholders together to create national awareness and a buzz around this year’s commemoration with the walk and this media interaction.
On this International Women’s Day, I extend the warm felicitations of the UN System here in Ghana to the Ministry and partners and to all the women in Ghana who work tirelessly on all fronts to ensure economies and societies run, Ayekoo!
The IWD, is a global advocacy moment to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political contributions of women to sustainable development and highlight the critical need to intensify initiatives to accelerate the achievement of gender equality.
This year’s theme for the commemoration, ‘DigitALL: Innovation and Technology for Gender Equality’ is especially significant as the world now grapples to employ new approaches to re-build all aspects of development after the unprecedented challenges presented by the COVID-19 global pandemic.
During COVID with its attendant restrictions, the gender digital divide and inequality became apparent, especially in sub-Saharan Africa including Ghana. When everyday life/activities became technology based and moved on line, more women and girls, compared to their male counterparts became disadvantaged because women and girls in general owned and used less devices and had less access to tech-related skills and jobs. The low levels of access to digital technology, which became the new mode of operations hindered their involvement in several socio-economic activities including on-line classes for students and digital marketing for women in the informal sector. This increased the vulnerability of women and girls, setting back some of the gains that had been made for gender parity.
In addition to the limited access, the obvious under-representation of women in the field of STEM means that most technological inventions/devices do not incorporate the views and perspectives of women and girls in their design and creation. Consequently, women and girls find the use of some of these devices unfriendly, and a world of potential for innovation that promotes gender equality and benefits society as a whole is lost. Coupled with the mis-use of technology with what is now increasingly known as ‘technology-facilitated gender-based violence’, which takes many forms such as sextortion, image-based abuse, cyberbullying and harassment, women and girls are often forced out of the limited digital spaces that they occupy.
However, all is not bleak and a world of potential for digital equality is still possible. The fact is that women have against all odds, over the years made contributions which have not received the due recognition from the epoque of computing to the present age of virtual reality and artificial intelligence, and they continue to make strides in the world of technology against the odds.
Over here in Ghana, we can make mention of adolescent girls from the Mamfe Senior High School in the Eastern Region who have won the World Robotics and Coding Competition for two consecutive times, giving credence to the ability of girls to succeed in the field of STEM when given the opportunity and the required support.
In addition, the UN in Ghana is currently throwing the spotlight on Women Innovators in Technology and the Digital Space by profiling their initiatives such as the UNDP supported Social Commerce Platforms as part of the 2023 IWD commemoration. The outlined number of female-initiated/female-owned technology-based innovations indicate that women are churning out usable and inclusive digital tools.
It is also worthy to note that, the UN in Ghana has supported and continues to partner with both the state and the private sector to establish national platforms to contribute to the bridging of the digital gender divide whilst facilitating access to information and services for marginalized women’s groups, adolescent girls and those furthest behind including people with disabilities and survivors of GBV and harmful practices.
These include the Orange Support Centre and Boame app, the Autism app and Wawaba platform supported by UNFPA, the Youth Engagement Centers in Library Spaces and the Digital Literacy Package supported by UNICEF, the UNESCO-Huawei Technology-enabled Open School Systems and ‘IamtheCODE’ platform that facilitates coding skills for girls and young women supported by UN Habitat and UNHCR among others.
We at the UN are therefore of the strong opinion that, with concerted efforts, the persistent gender gap in digital access and barriers to women and girl’s participation in tech creation and governance can be overcome. This is critical as the new opportunities provided by digital technology such as heightened voice and agency, expansion of networks and advocacy, gender-responsive digital learning and tech-facilitated sexual and reproductive healthcare, will benefit more women and other marginalized groups to ensure sustainable development.
We therefore join all stakeholders to call on government, CSOs, and the private sector to take a stand against the pervasive gender discrimination in the digital and technology space and outline measures that will stop the misuse of technology as a weapon against women and girls on the basis of gender.
For instance, according to a national study conducted in Ghana in 2016/2017, around 40% of children in Ghana; especially girls, do not feel safe online, and 30% had experienced something that bothered or upset them while online because of the lack of awareness and limited skills. At the global level, about 73% of women journalists indicated they have suffered online violence in the course of their work, according to a survey from 125 countries.
Ladies and Gentlemen, this is the crunch of the matter. Technology is indispensable, if we are to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment. We must therefore do all within our power to prevent it from being misused against women and girls as a tool of subjugation and violence.
Honourable Deputy Minister, being directly at the forefront of achieving gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls in all spheres, we recognize the critical role your Ministry plays to help achieve this objective which is a prominent focus of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Today, on the occasion of the 2023 International Women’s Day, we at the UN renew our commitment to work with the government, CSOs, other national partners and the people of Ghana to enhance the safety, inclusivity and equitability of the digital world.
We congratulate the Government of Ghana, the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection and everyone involved in addressing the gender digital divide and increase the access of women and girls to technology, including their recognition as a pivotal force to our digital future.
In conclusion, I would like to urge all of us to continue to coordinate our efforts so that ultimately, digital gaps will be eroded to enhance better life opportunities for women and girls as achieving a gender-equal world requires social innovations that work for both women and men and leave no one behind.
Thank you very much for your kind attention.