UN Conference on the Status of Women: We need action to make gender equality in the digital age a reality
The 67th session of the UN Committee on the Status of Women (CSW67) held in New York, March 6 to 17 adopted conclusions that acknowledge the critical role of technology and innovation in achieving gender equality and recognise the challenges to gender equality in the digital age.
The 31-page text was finalized late at night on the final day after more than a week of intensive negotiations. The document focuses on this year’s theme “innovation and technological change, and education in the digital age for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls.” It reaffirms previously agreed upon policy messages, refers to established international policy instruments, and moves policy forward with new language on bridging the digital gender divide.
Strong oppositional forces within the negotiations pushed to water down language on labour rights for women, but thanks to progressive governments and advocacy by the union movement, with support from the ILO, the Commission’s final text calls for labour policies that respect ILO standards, decent work and quality jobs for women, equal pay for work of equal value, the right to organise and bargain collectively, and the elimination of sexual harassment and discriminatory practices in career advancement.
Education is key
The text includes important language on education. It reaffirms the need to ensure access to inclusive and equitable quality education, including digital literacy, and highlights the multiple gender-specific barriers to girls’ equal enjoyment of the right to education.
Importantly, and in line with EI’s Go Pubic: Fund Education campaign, the conclusions call for “investing in public education and infrastructure”. They highlight the provision of universal access to free and compulsory primary and secondary education and encourage government to strive for universal completion of early childhood, primary, and secondary education and the expansion of technical and vocational training for all women and girls. They further call for investment in accessible digital public learning resources and gender-sensitive, safe and inclusive digital environments for all.
The document acknowledges that negative social norms, gender stereotypes and systemic and structural barriers are among the root causes of the persistent gender gap in science technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education, and that policy makers have a responsibility to drive change to create supportive education settings.
On teaching, the document makes clear that digital technologies should not replace in-person education but rather be used to enhance and supplement it. The critical role of teachers and educators is recognized and “the importance of strengthening their capacities, skills and competencies in online and digital learning by providing support, including through the necessary trainings, devices, materials and technological infrastructure” is noted, as is the importance of encouraging gender-responsive teaching strategies.
The outcome text provides guidance to governments and other stakeholders who seek to advance gender equality in the context of technological change, including through education. Yet finalizing the text is only the first step – now these conclusions must be translated into reality through implementation. Education unions have an important role to play in advocating for gender equality in and through education at the local, national, and global level.