- MEP Soraya Rodríguez participated in the 67th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women.
- We analyze the situation of the digital gender divide, the EU’s priorities and the situation of digital education in Africa.
From a parliamentary group Renew Europe and as a member of the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality of the European Parliament (FEMM), MEP Soraya Rodríguez has participated in the 67th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW67). The priority theme for this 2023 is technological change and education in the digital age. Eradicating the digital gender divide is key to advance in equality.
In March each year, activists, advocates, experts and governments from around the world gather at the annual meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women. The CSW is a functional commission of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the leading global intergovernmental body dedicated exclusively to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women.
EU priorities for the digital gender divide in CSW67
As a member of the FEMM commission, Soraya Rodríguez stressed how important it is that European Union has a single voice in this key event aimed to promote gender equality internationally. CSW67 is a crucial time to take stock of technological progress and ensure that its rapid advancement does not leave women and girls behind. According to the MEP, the EU’s priorities in this regard should be:
Guarantee women access to technology and ensure their economic and social empowerment. In developing countries, 1.7 billion women are already disconnected. We cannot allow so many millions of women to be left out of the opportunities offered by the labour market. And for this, it is also important that we apply an intersectional approach, which addresses the multiple gaps and structural inequalities faced by women belonging to minorities, or those living in rural environments, where access to technology and innovation, sometimes, is practically zero.
In addition, it is crucial that young women participate in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers. Currently, only 35% of the total number of students enrolled in careers related to science, technology, engineering or mathematics, are women. This underrepresentation of women in innovative technology sectors negatively affects the design and application of new technologies, as it translates into the development of gender-biased algorithms that perpetuate gender stereotypes.
Another crucial issue is to emphasize the importance of eradicating gender-based cyberviolence. Enhancing education and helping the development of digital skills for women is essential to prevent this type of violence. It is necessary to bet on a policy of zero tolerance towards all forms of violence against women and girls in the digital environment. We must continue to work so that, both at EU level — through the proposal for a directive to combat violence against women and domestic violence— and at international level, to make gender-based violence online a crime a priority.
Furthermore, as noted in Parliament’s resolution of 15 February, we must ensure universal and full access to online information on sexual and reproductive health and rights, including the right to legal and safe abortion. These measures should go hand in hand with robust data protection legislation.
Parallel event European Union and African Union: Reshaping tomorrow’s policies for women’s empowermen
s MEP and Chair of the Delegation for relations with the Pan-African Parliament, Soraya Rodriguez spoke at the co-organised side event between the European Union and the African Union “Closing the digital gender divide and reshaping tomorrow’s policies for women’s empowerment”. In his speech, he stressed that access to education has improved significantly globally and, more specifically, with regard to primary education in Africa. However, there is still a lot of work ahead when it comes to secondary and university education. The gender gap in access to upper secondary education in sub-Saharan Africa is around 20 per cent, such as in countries such as Chad and Guinea. In addition, he stated that we must continue to place education high on policy agendas to address systemic gender gaps and focus on their online dimension, with online learning and digital literacy at the core.
Sub-Saharan Africa is the region of the world with the highest number of children not attending school: 98 million in 2022. Many of them are girls, who are also forced to drop out of school to marry or financially support their families.
These inequalities are wider when talking about the most vulnerable students, who face several layers of discrimination: we must pay special attention to women and girls living in conflict and poverty, who are some of the most vulnerable. For example, in the Central Sahel and Lake Chad Basin, more than 11,000 schools are closed due to conflicts or threats against teachers and students. Half of the population in this region is under the age of 18, leading to a worrying decline in these children’s access to education. In the case of women, this situation increases the prevalence of practices such as child marriage and early pregnancy. In sub-Saharan Africa, 34 per cent of young women are forced to marry before the age of 18. It is our responsibility to work through the European Union-African Union partnership to break the poverty cycle of millions of women and girls in Africa.
Unlike other parts of the world, the digital gender divide is growing in Africa: only 19 % of African women used the Internet in 2020, compared to 86 % in the developed world. It should be borne in mind that Africa has the largest youth population in the world. The COVID-19 pandemic was an incentive to apply technology in education, but this transition must be accelerated on the African continent. Due to rapid technological advances in all areas of life and work, every girl needs to be digitally literate and connected to unlock her access to a world of possibilities.
While promoting gender-sensitive digital learning, we will need to address factors such as affordability or access to electricity (for example, in sub-Saharan Africa only 22 % of primary schools have access to electricity). These are structural changes that will take time. Governments and policymakers must therefore ensure reliable and stable long-term funding for programmes and initiatives that make a difference for the education of women and girls, including online opportunities. These initiatives can range from bringing the Internet to rural areas, schools and community centers to creating online spaces for women to communicate.
During the sixth EU-AU Summit in February 2022, Africa-Europe investments worth at least EUR 150.000 billion were announced in support of the 2030 Goals and the African Union Agenda 2063. It is important to monitor the priority areas of the education package, which also includes education and vocational training, ensuring their gender approach and reducing the gender gap.