Priority Theme – “Innovation and technological change, and education in the digital age for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls”
I am honoured to speak on behalf of the 14 Member States of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). I assure you and the members of the Bureau of CARICOM’s full support and cooperation as we work together to deliver positive outcomes that are essential to achieving gender equality and the empowerment of women.
This year’s theme for CSW is of particular significance given the rapid digital transformation of our world, and the opportunities and challenges this presents for women and girls.
Digital skills are more and more frequently required to conduct everyday activities such as accessing information and essential services, paying for goods, navigating traffic, and staying in touch with loved ones. In education, virtual learning environments and distance learning have opened-up programmes to students who would otherwise be excluded. Digital technologies are also being used across a multitude of sectors, including to track and diagnose issues in agriculture, for online healthcare services and for life-saving disaster warnings.
This digital transformation is providing new avenues for the economic empowerment of women and can contribute to the achievement of gender equality. With access to the Internet and skills to use digital technologies, they can pursue education and find better-paid jobs, start new businesses, promote and sell products in new markets, access and exchange information as well as network and increase participation in public life. They can also work flexibly and distantly.
While the COVID-19 pandemic saw more people going online for work or for recreation, it also highlighted existing digital divides among and within countries, including in relation to age, disability, gender, geography and socioeconomic status.
Latest figures from the ITU show that an estimated 66 per cent of the world’s population was using the Internet in 2022 with young people being the driving force of connectivity. 69 per cent of men were using the Internet, compared with 63 per cent of women. This means there are 259 million more men than women using the Internet in 2022.
Against this backdrop, it is imperative that women and girls are empowered to be both agents and beneficiaries of technology, innovation, and digitalization. More jobs are demanding digital skills and women and girls must achieve digital literacy and have affordable access to technology to avoid being left behind. Indeed, digital literacy has become an essential part of education in this changing world.
Our governments have recognized that digitalization has wide-ranging and significant impacts on the economy and society and have agreed to strengthen policy consolidation and alignment and to deepen the cooperation on digital transformation in CARICOM. The CARICOM Digital Skills Task Force is working to advance digital skills in the region for economic and social development, as well as provide technical guidance on the development of digital skills and capability levels across the skills spectrum in CARICOM.
While ICT and STEM occupations are among the highest earners, there has been historic underrepresentation of women and girls. This is often a result of gender stereotyping in career choices. The CARICOM Girls in ICT Partnership Programme is focused on changing gender-specific expectations about professions, including by fostering female role models in STEM and ICTs.
Efforts are ongoing to integrate ICT studies and skills training into our formal education systems, including through capacity development for teachers. There is also need for re-skilling and up-skilling for women who are already in the job market so that they can have equal opportunities for promotions and higher earnings. Technical skills training should be complemented by structured linkages to the labour market through internships, apprenticeships, and job placement programmes.
With climate change and sea level rise among the greatest challenges of our region, CARICOM recognizes the critical importance of ICTs in disaster prevention and response. Women and girls are already an indispensable part of climate action and solutions, contributing to the design and implementation of early warning systems in relation to climate change using technology and innovation. We hope to increase the number of women and girls in these fields.
While there are many positives to the increased use of technology and digital spaces, there are also serious risks, especially in relation to the safety, protection of privacy and other rights, as well as personal data.
While social media connects almost half of the global population and provides a platform for persons to express views, and to talk to people across the world, it can also reinforce prejudices and sow discord, by giving a platform to hate speech and misinformation as well as provide another avenue for harassment and violence against women and girls with perpetrators often benefitting from anonymity.
Global data shows that violence, harassment and hate speech against women and girls in the digital context, as well as cyberbullying, have increased significantly with the shift to online platforms. Urgent action is needed to prevent and respond to new and escalating forms of online violence, which evidence shows often serves as a continuum to violence offline.
Our governments are consistently working to eliminate such violence and promote a safe online environment, ensuring access to justice for victims and support for survivors through a multifaceted approach that includes legislation, the engagement with men and boys so that mutual respect and understanding is built, and measures such as encouraging the equal sharing of responsibilities in areas like parenting and household work and the engagement of community leaders to address discriminatory social norms and gender stereotypes. Rights, protections and redress that are available offline must also be protected online.
Effective action requires evidence-based policymaking. There must be systematic collection of, and analysis of data, including on the basis of gender. CARICOM continues to seek support from our developmental partners for building our capacity to collect credible data and information.
We are committed to working with all stakeholders towards closing the gender digital divide and contributing to the economic and social empowerment of women and girls through improvements to women’s and girls’ digital skills and access to the internet and devices, and to ensuring a safe and enabling online environment for them.