The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) is calling to guarantee women’s access to digital technology, increase the number of women majoring in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and eradicate gender cyber violence as part of its observance of International Women’s Day. This year’s theme is “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality.”
In Latin America and the Caribbean, Internet benefits are not distributed equally: an estimated 244 million inhabitants do not have access to these services. Differences in access to digital technology are especially alarming when urban and rural communities are compared: while 68% of urban homes in the region had an Internet connection in 2018, the same held true for only 23% of households in rural areas.
According to a report by ECLAC, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Gender Equality and Women’s and Girls’ Autonomy in the Digital Era: Contributions of Education and Digital Transformation in Latin America and the Caribbean, women’s access to the Internet is more precarious.
An estimated four out of 10 women in the region are not connected to the Internet. The reasons vary: access may not be available, they cannot afford it, do not have a compatible device, or lack the basic skills to connect.
“The cost of mobile and fixed broadband service for the population in the first income quintile in the region averages 14% and 12% of their income, respectively, which explains why a high percentage of this low-income population does not have access to the Internet. Given that women are overrepresented in lower-income households in the region, this explains why there are more women in households that are not connected,” states the document.
“ECLAC recognizes the talent, strength and creativity of women and girls in the region. However, we note the structural persistence of gender inequality. The data speak volumes and call us to action,” notes ECLAC Executive Secretary José Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs, in a video message released in observance of International Women’s Day 2023.
“This 8 March, we are calling for: A narrowing of the gender digital divide and the full participation of women in technological development and knowledge. And also, for a transition to a care society, a development model that puts equality and sustainability of life at the centre and leaves no one behind,” announced the head of ECLAC.
Women in the region have achieved much in terms of education, surpassing men by 6.1 percentage points in high school completion. Despite these achievements, women are not equally represented in academic disciplines, as shown in the ECLAC report. These inequalities widen over the course of primary and secondary education and later at the university level.
In most countries of the region, women account for no more than 40% of graduates in STEM careers. The areas where women are least represented are engineering, industry and construction (where women’s college enrollment stood at 30.8% in 2019) and information and communications technology (ICT), where only 18% of college students were women in 2019.
When women do earn college degrees, these do not necessarily translate into better jobs or salaries once they enter the labor force. Women’s job market participation stands at just 50% and women spend almost triple the amount of time on unpaid housework and caregiving than men (19.6% of their time versus 7.3% for men).
Women who remain in STEM careers do not achieve the same as men in terms of scientific production or academia: on average, less than 30% of patents list at least one woman on the team of inventors in the region. Women’s authorship in physical and chemical science publications stands at 38% and engineering, 30%.
Another finding from the ECLAC report is the different types of violence girls and women suffer on digital media. This gendered violence, which includes cybercrimes such as threats, hate speech, sexual harassment, invasion of privacy and the non-consensual sharing of images, among others, is generally sexual and sexist.
According to the commission’s report, women who are human rights activists, politicians, communicators and journalists, and public leaders are often particular targets of this gender-based cyber violence.
ECLAC is encouraging the countries of the region to uphold the regionals accords designed to close the digital gender gap and guarantee the participation of all girls and women in development and technological knowledge. These are included in the Buenos Aires Commitment, the Digital Agenda for Latin America and the Caribbean (eLAC 2024) (both approved in November 2022) and in the Declaration by the ministers and authorities of the mechanisms for gender equality and empowerment of women in Latin America and the Caribbean, signed in February of this year.
ECLAC is calling on countries to make progress simultaneously in different priority areas. Its proposals include incorporating a gender perspective in the processes and policies related to the transformation of production and the digital transformation of the most dynamic sectors of the economy; fostering gender and social equity in caregiving; and promoting integral caregiving systems that rely on technology solutions to give girls and women more time for learning and greater access to education and digital technologies.
Another need the report notes is that of supporting inclusive digital transformation processes (like the digital market basket) to ensure household Internet access across the region. Career and technical education (CTE) should be promoted to increase the number of girls and women in STEM and eliminate gender stereotypes in education. Women must be fully involved in the creation of digital technologies and innovation processes, and safe spaces free of digital violence need to be created. Finally, governance must be strengthened along with the multisector partnerships needed to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals.