International Women’s Day: More needs to be done to curb new, emerging forms of violence – WGEC

Every year, on March 8th, International Women’s Day is observed; and it is used to increase awareness and celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political accomplishments of women. This year’s UNWomen theme: “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality”, serves to honour and celebrate the women and girls who are leading the charge for the development of transformative technology and digital education. We live in a world where, increasingly, transactions of our lives are informed by technology, more so by digital technology. In urban spaces, life without electricity is almost unthinkable. For our youth, life without the internet connectivity would be torturous. Digital technology is becoming part of the fabric of our everyday lives. It is therefore critical that women and girls be part of shaping technology. Bringing women and other marginalised groups into technology spaces would result in more creative solutions. It would have greater potential for the creation of innovations women and girls need, and want to use in their lives.
The COVID-19 pandemic, while wreaking havoc on lives around the globe, highlighted how great the disparities are, particularly between urban and rural populations. Rural women and girls have less access to the digital world, and benefit less from the solutions it provides than urban women and girls. The pandemic also brought about innovation. We all learnt how to do work, learn and entertain ourselves in new ways. This year’s IWD theme also forces us to examine the impact of the digital gender gap on widening economic and social inequalities, as well as the importance of protecting the rights of women and girls in digital spaces, while addressing online and ICT-facilitated forms of gender-based violence. We also need to adequately address technology-assisted forms of gender-based violence.
To truly extract the benefits new technology promises, the full participation of women and girls in STEM and technology spaces must be supported. We need to foster the environment wherein technology is created that meets the needs of women and girls. We need to examine ways to reduce the growing disparities between men and women in terms of access to, and proficiency with, digital technologies. The digital space has generated unprecedented opportunities for the empowerment of women and girls through opportunities for online learning, digital activism, and networking with virtual communities of practice to the rapid expansion of lucrative technological jobs and careers. Women and girls remain underrepresented across the creation, use, and regulation of technology. They are less likely to use digital services or enter tech-related careers, and are significantly more likely to face online harassment and violence. This limits not only their own digital empowerment, but also the transformative potential of technology as a whole.
This year, the Women and Gender Equality Commission (WGEC) are continuing their sponsorship of three women who are pursuing studies in STEM-related areas at the University of Guyana through their annual Magda Pollard Women in STEM Scholarship Programme. We celebrate the strides made by organisations like STEM Guyana, and ICT for Girls, and the Caricom Girls in ICT Initiative, But the advancing technology has also introduced new forms of inequality, and threats to the wellbeing of women and girls. The Commission is acutely aware of the increasing incidents of cyber-bullying cyber-stalking and grooming, as evidenced by the number of reports engaging the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. While Guyana has new cybercrime legislation, the Commission feels more needs to be done to curb new and emerging forms of violence. Women and girls need to have the assurance that they, too, are entitled to have safe lives and strong futures. We cannot allow technology to widen existing disparities, but rather we must put it to work on behalf of a safer, more sustainable, more equitable future for all.