Is Technology Hindering the Progress in Gender Equality?
On 13 March 2023, during the 67th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres highlighted technology’s role in the current global pushback on gender equality.
According to him: “The male chauvinist domination of new technologies is undoing decades of progress on women’s rights.”
After more than 100 years of progress, “technology is now reversing that trend. It is concentrating power again more in the hands of men—to the detriment of all.”
However, the thing to ponder is whether technology plays a key role in gender equality reversals.
Technology has transformed every aspect of our lives, from how we work and communicate to how we access information and consume goods and services. While technology has the potential to advance gender equality, it can also perpetuate gender bias and discrimination, creating new challenges and reinforcing existing power imbalances.
The underrepresentation of women in the technology industry is one such challenge. According to a 2021 report by the World Economic Forum, women currently comprise only 26% of the global tech workforce. This gender gap is even wider in certain areas of technology, such as artificial intelligence and cybersecurity.
This underrepresentation limits their participation in decision-making and technology design, resulting in products and services that do not adequately meet the needs of women and other marginalised groups or even harm them. This can perpetuate gender stereotypes and reinforce existing inequalities in society.
Moreover, algorithms and artificial intelligence (AI) systems can perpetuate gender bias and discrimination. These systems are often trained on biased data sets and can reflect the prejudices of their creators. For example, a study by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that Google’s Ad Settings algorithm showed higher-paying job ads to men more frequently than to women, even when the women had equal or better qualifications.
The online harassment and abuse of women and girls is another challenge that technology has exacerbated. Social media platforms and other online forums can be used to spread hate speech and misogyny, creating a hostile environment for women and discouraging them from participating in public discourse. A 2017 report by the Pew Research Center found that 41% of American women had experienced online harassment, compared to 17% of men.
The other side of the coin
It is important to note that technology can also be a force for good in promoting gender equality. For example, it can increase access to education, healthcare, and employment opportunities for women and girls, particularly in areas where these resources are scarce. It can also provide a platform for women’s voices to be heard and amplify their activism and advocacy efforts.
One example of how technology can promote gender equality is using mobile phones and other digital devices to provide health information and services to women in remote and underserved areas. This approach, known as mHealth, has been used to provide maternal and child healthcare, reproductive health services, and HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment.
Moreover, technology can provide a platform for women’s voices to be heard and amplify their activism and advocacy efforts. Social media platforms, for example, have been used to mobilise women’s movements worldwide, from the #MeToo movement to the Women’s March on Washington.
To harness the potential of technology for gender equality, it is important to take a proactive and inclusive approach to its design, implementation, and use. This requires the involvement of diverse stakeholders, including women and other marginalised groups, in decision-making and design processes. It also requires a commitment to addressing gender bias and discrimination in data sets and algorithms, as well as in organisational cultures and practices.
In conclusion, technology has the potential to advance gender equality by increasing access to resources and amplifying women’s voices, but it also poses significant challenges and risks.
To ensure that technology promotes gender equality and social justice, it is essential to take a proactive and inclusive approach to its design, implementation, and use. This requires a commitment to diversity and inclusion, as well as a willingness to address the biases and power imbalances that can perpetuate gender inequality in technology and society at large.
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