On 8 March 2023, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) joins the rest of the world in celebrating International Women’s Day (IWD), a special observance that was adopted by the United Nations 48 years ago in 1975, during the International Women’s Year. The first International Women’s Day observance occurred well over a century ago with the gathering numbering over a million women in 1911. Today, the day belongs to all groups, collectively, everywhere. Today we celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, and recommit ourselves to the work that still needs to be done to accelerate women’s equality.
This year’s theme, “DigitALL: Innovation and Technology for Gender Equality”, is aligned with the priority theme for the Sixty-Seventh Session of the Commission on the Status of Women underway at the United Nations. The day is set aside to acknowledge women’s contributions to technology, and explore the impact of the digital gender divide on widening economic and social inequalities exacerbated during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It also highlights the importance of protecting the rights of women and girls in digital spaces, and of addressing online and ICT-facilitated, gender-based violence. The timeliness and relevance of this year’s theme cannot be overstated, as technology and innovation are playing an increasingly important role to shape our Region and the world.
Technology and innovation are opening new avenues for women and girls, thus contributing to gender equality in several ways. Through digital platforms and online resources, women and girls are gaining access to educational opportunities and career paths that were previously unavailable to them. This is particularly true in underserved communities where traditional barriers, such as geography, culture and a lack of resources can prevent them from pursuing their dreams.
Technological advancements are making education and training more accessible to women, particularly in the Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) fields. This provides women with more opportunities to participate in the workforce, which can lead to greater economic independence, empowerment, and higher pay.
Innovation and technological change can also lead to more flexible work arrangements, which can help women balance their work and family responsibilities. Innovations in medical technology also promise to improve women’s health outcome, and access to healthcare services, such as new treatments for reproductive health, remote monitoring of pregnancies and telemedicine services.
Even as we embrace the possibilities of technology and innovation, it is important to recognise the potential challenges and risks that come with these advancements. Among them, online violence, harassment and privacy concerns, all of which disproportionately affects women and girls.
In celebrating International Women’s Day with a focus on technology and innovation, we must not lose sight of the many issues that stand in the way of achieving women’s equality, such as women’s political participation, unpaid care and domestic work, impact of climate change, and gender-based violence which is a public health crisis in the Region. According to the global average, one in three women has experienced physical and/or sexual violence at some point in her lifetime, usually from an intimate partner. In the Caribbean region, prevalence surveys conducted between 2016-2018 in five Member States indicate incidence rates as high as one in two women.
As we observe IWD this year, our thoughts and prayers are with the women and girls in Haiti who are experiencing the most gross violations as they are targeted by gangs who are ravaging and killing them with impunity. Protecting the women and girls must be a priority.
Therefore, as we observe International Women’s Day across the Community, let us work toward greater representation of women and girls in all areas of leadership and decision-making, especially in technology, politics, business, health, the arts, and culture. By so doing, we can create a more inclusive and equitable “DigitAll” world where innovation and technology bridge gender equality.
Happy International Women’s Day to all!