OECD: Bridging The Digital Gender Divide

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This report has been produced at the request of the Australian Government to support advancement of the 2017 G20 Roadmap for Digitalisation: Policies for a Digital Future, in particular its dimension on supporting the equitable participation of women in the digital economy. It aims to provide policy directions for consideration by all governments, including G20 economies’ governments through identifying, discussing and analysing a range of drivers at the root of the digital gender divide. In bolstering the evidence base and drawing attention tocritical policy areas, the analysis complements the important initiative of the 2018 Argentinian G20 Presidency to share those policies, actions and national practices that have had a significant and measurable impact in bridging the digital gender divide, and supports Argentina’s approach of mainstreaming gender across the G20 agenda.

While G20 economies have already put in place a number of important actions aimed at narrowing the gender gap, more needs to be done in light of the many worrying signs of a widening digital gender divide and the compounded effect that its different components may have in the future. Hurdles to access, affordability, lack of education as well as inherent biases and socio-cultural norms curtail women and girls’ ability to benefit from the opportunities offered by the digital transformation. In addition, girls’ relatively lower educational enrolment in those disciplines that would allow them to perform well in a digital world (e.g.science, technology, engineering and mathematics [STEM] and information and communication technologies [ICTs]), coupled with women’s and girls’ limited use of digital tools and relatively scarcer presence or activity on platforms–e.g. for business purposes–suggest a potential scenario of widening gaps and greater inequality, especially in disadvantaged areas. If one adds to this the fact that women receive comparatively less financing for their innovative endeavours and are often confronted with “glass ceilings”curbing their professional ambitions (especially so in tech industries),the picture that emerges is far from positive and points to a vicious circle that could lead to widening of digital gender divides.

Policy, especially in the form of co-ordinated and complementary actions, may reverse these trends and trigger a more inclusive path, based on narrowing digital and gender gaps. Addressing the digital gender divide requires raising awareness and tackling gender stereotypes, while at the same time enabling enhanced, safer and more affordable access to digital tools and fostering strong co-operation across stakeholders to remove barriers to girls and women’s full participation in the digital world. Digital technologies may provide new opportunities for making progress, underscoring the importance of broadening access. But “tech fixes” can do little to address the underlying structural problems driving the digital gender divide and gender biases. While the report discusses some of the ways in which women can be empowered, gaps narrowed and hurdles leapfrogged, narrowing the (digital) gender divide is not about “fixing women”, or perpetuating existing roles with the aid of technology. Rather, the focus needs to be on putting in place concrete policy actions fostering women’s and girls’ full participation and inclusion in the digital economy, while at the same time addressing ingrained stereotypes and social norms that lead to discrimination and even violence against women.

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