Statement: Digital skills for life

Statement for International Girls in ICT Day, 27 April 2023, by UN Women Executive Director Sima Bahous


For girls across the world, digital technology holds both power and potential. Digital literacy, online safety, and cybersecurity skills, especially for adolescents, are an essential part of modern life. 19-year-old Dilanaz Guler is a Turkish, Generation Equality Adolescent Girl Leader. She said, “I have a very deep, fundamental belief that technology can change the world to be a better place”. We agree. Girls must have safe, inclusive and equal access to technology, the skills to use it and educational and occupational opportunities to fully participate in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and arts.

The Commission on the Status of Women this year addressed innovation and technological change and education in the digital age. It recognized adolescent girls as part of the most digitally-connected generation in history. It committed in its conclusions to promote their full, equal and meaningful participation and leadership in decision-making processes, recognizing the barriers girls face to realize the potential of technology in their lives.

Digital skills are at the heart of the future of work. Demand for those skills will only grow. But access to build those skills and negative stereotypes about girls in STEM are leading to unequal outcomes. Women and girls are 25 per cent less likely than men to have sufficient knowledge and digital skills to use technology. This robs girls of crucial opportunities. While girls do as well as boys in science in most countries, women occupy less than one-third of positions in the technology sector globally.

Training programmes, while important, are not enough. It is not about ‘fixing women and girls’. We need something more fundamental, to promote change among the people and institutions that are perpetuating stereotypes and change unsupportive education and work environments.

Promoting girls’ digital skills through affordable, equitable and inclusive education is not only a matter of equality. It is an economic imperative. Adolescent girls and young women in low- and middle-income countries miss out on USD15 billion in economic opportunities due to gaps in internet access and digital skills, relative to their male peers. With full access and the right skills, girls can and must be full, empowered digital citizens, connecting with the vital resources and services they need.

Sadly, this is not only about lost opportunities. Girls also have to learn to protect themselves from economic abuse, cybercrime and fraud. Fifty-eight per cent of young women and girls surveyed globally have experienced some form of online harassment, with many reporting their first experience occurring between the ages of 14 and 16. We must all do more on prevention, accountability and justice, with both public and private spheres working together to ensure girls’ age-appropriate protection from online risks and any unlawful interference with their privacy on social media, and ending impunity for the perpetrators.

Transformational empowerment and generating change ‘with girls’ not ‘for girls’, is key to creating lasting and meaningful impact.

As the convener of the Action Coalition on Technology and Innovation, our priority is to coordinate action, knowledge exchange and co-create a better digital future together across multi-stakeholder partners, including adolescent girls like Dilanaz. Since its creation two years ago, the Generation Equality Action Coalition on Technology and Innovation for Gender Equality has been instrumental in shaping global standards on gender and digital technologies, through multi-stakeholder partnerships focusing on a field that has been too often overlooked. It will continue to do so.

Together, we can ensure that every girl has an equal opportunity to safely and meaningfully access, use, lead, and design technology, to shape an equal digital future.