UN Women, ILO and ECLAC propose a "basic basket" to bridge the digital divide between men and women

Date: Wednesday, March 10, 2021

As part of International Women's Day, much has been said about the disproportionate impact on women of the COVID-19 pandemic, the confinement measures and the economic consequences of the health crisis.

It is a situation that has exacerbated other pre-pandemic inequalities, the burden of care at home, unemployment and, above all, situations of violence against women and the increase in femicides.

On Tuesday, March 9, UN Women, the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) put the spotlight on another of the great inequalities between men and women: the digital gap.

To begin to overcome it, they propose, among a wide range of social, labor and fiscal measures, a "basic digital basket", consisting of a cell phone, a tablet and facilities to buy data, which would be given to women without access to technology and networks.

During the virtual event, the Regional Director of UN Women for the Americas and the Caribbean, María Noel Vaeza, revealed in her presentation two facts that demonstrate the dimension of the problem. In the world, only 45% of women have access to the Internet, and if we compare the number of cell phones, there are more devices in the hands of men than women.

In addition to having less access to devices and web browsing, there is also a large disproportion between women and men pursuing careers related to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

"If the gender gap is not urgently addressed, it will widen in the face of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. By 2050, 75% of jobs will be STEM-related. Today women occupy 22% of positions in artificial intelligence," said Maria Noel Vaeza, UN Women regional director for the Americas and the Caribbean.

Some countries in the region are already taking steps to overcome this gap, with promising results. For example, the Science and Gender program in Costa Rica or the creation of ad hoc institutions and national gender and STEM committees such as those in Argentina, Chile and Uruguay.

Alicia Bárcena, executive secretary of ECLAC, said that the pandemic "visibilized the digital divide of more than 40 million households (in Latin America and the Caribbean) that are not connected (to the Internet)". She added that "the possibility for women to work remotely is greater than that of men, but the lack of connectivity does not allow them to do so".

As a measure to reduce this problem, she called for a digital transformation that contemplates women and includes the proposed "basic digital basket", which, said Bárcena, would have a very low cost in relation to GDP in almost all countries.

Vinícius Pinheiro, Regional Director of the ILO, stressed that there is "a structural change in the way we work". The pandemic has accelerated trends and integrated strategies will be needed to develop the digital economy and work with a gender equality perspective. It is necessary to avoid a scenario in which there is "21st century technology with 19th century working conditions," he added.

Vaeza, Bárcena and Pinheiro also addressed the need to regulate activities such as teleworking, a modality that accelerated during the pandemic and could become the norm for many jobs in the near future.

They also stressed the importance of stimulating the return of women to the labor market and of providing support with investments aimed at women's businesses under an appropriate regulatory framework that considers the gender perspective.