International Women’s Day 2023: Digital rights are women’s rights- no ifs, no buts!

International Women's Day 2023Blog by Chidinma Ibemere, M.Sc. Education Leadership and Policy, University of Bristol, UN Women UK Delegate for CSW67 for International Women’s Day 2023

At the core of the first official celebration of the International Women’s Day by the United Nations in 1975, was the quest and the mandate to advance women’s rights everywhere, at all times. It is unfortunate that 48 years down the line, the menace, gender inequality, still thrives in various forms and dimensions across the intersections of life.

As overwhelming as this situation may seem, it is important that all hands must be on deck to ensure gender equality becomes a reality in our time.

DigitALL: Innovation and Technology for Gender Equality

The United Nations theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is “DigitALL: Innovation and Technology for Gender Equality”. One of the powerful statements regarding digital access that resonates with me is that access to digital technology is a human right and not a privilege. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, I must confess that I lived in some sort of illusion. I understood greatly that there were weightier challenges that affected women and girls in our societies; from poverty, unequal access to education, weak health systems amongst others however, it never occurred to me that digital poverty was as much as a global crisis as all other forms of poverty until the pandemic hit.

I worked as a Biology Teacher at Federal Government College Enugu, Nigeria, before moving to the UK. I remember vividly how in March 2020, we were asked to close down operations at the school because cases of the coronavirus were rising. At the time, the world was in chaos with no clear directions of how to manage the impact of the virus. With the lockdown measures in place to mitigate the effects of the pandemic, virtual meetings became the trend. It was important for life and living to move on regardless but this was not the reality for all as most people were left behind in the grand scheme of things and women and girls were disproportionately at the receiving end.

Federal Government College Enugu is located in the South-eastern region of Nigeria with a higher population of female students and female staff. The school is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education. This investment made it easier for the school to design and implement virtual sessions for the students across all subjects. It was interesting to find out that although there was the availability of the digital platform to fulfil academic demands, not all students were reached and not all teachers participated in the three-month long session.

Despite how exciting this innovation was, I recognized gaps that made me reflect deeply. I found it difficult to agree with the school management’s conclusion that the virtual sessions were ‘’successful’’. My reasons were not farfetched. I believe strongly that if all mothers or women-figure in the lives of our students and the large number of female staff who didn’t participate had access to digital devices with affordable internet subscription or a relatively acceptable level of digital literacy, the gaps revealed would be absolutely or nearly non-existent.

Digital inequalities

Some students had no smartphones or digital devices neither did their parents or guardians, some had access to smartphones or digital devices but had little or no resources to subscribe to the internet. Those whose neighbours could afford digital technology couldn’t open their doors for fear of the COVID-19 transmission while some students who had access to digital devices and internet subscription battled with poor supply of electricity. Some teachers couldn’t participate in the process because they had no knowledge of how to operate the virtual platforms.

Upon resumption in October 2020, these setbacks made it pertinent for the school management to host revision classes of all lessons taught during the lockdown to ensure no student was left behind. ICT trainings were also conducted to assist teachers in embracing technology. Think of the time as well as human resources that had to be recommitted in the catch up sessions!

This context further affirms my belief- when women and girls are empowered with the relevant resources, significant progress is achieved and the needed change embraced. Without doubts, there is urgency in the need to drive advocacy on ensuring equal and equitable access to digital technology and innovation especially for women and girls. Recent  research by the United Nations Women states that “the absolute gap between men and women’s access has actually increased by 20 million since 2019’’.

Bridging the gaps of inequality

On this special day set aside to highlight the digital issues faced by women and girls across the world, I wish to share some recommendations that would assist institutions, governments and organizations who are committed to bridging the gaps of inequality and inequity in accessing digital technology and innovation in developing countries and making the digital space safe for all:

  • It is not sufficient enough to provide digital devices as a means of intervention, what matters is putting into consideration the realistic context of each space. There is a range of factors that must be identified, from frequency in electricity supply, level of digital literacy, security to internet affordability. Digital intervention for women and girls should no longer be handled at surface level if efficiency remains the goal.
  • Technology needs financing to thrive and innovation flourishes when the relevant tools are readily available. Institutions and governments must commit to funding the advancement in technology with a gender lens, using evidence-informed policies and initiatives. It is no longer acceptable to witness the widened gender disparities that exist in tech related courses, spaces and opportunities. From tech design, creation, research to innovation, women and girls must be reflected and represented because access to digital rights are human rights and by extension, women’s rights. No ifs, no buts!
  • It is important to incorporate technology in all sectors of the economy, from healthcare to agriculture; housing to education. This intersectionality would significantly improve technological acceptance and digital literacy for women and girls everywhere.
  • I support the motion which suggests that digital spaces must be safe for all women and girls. Policies and frameworks that secure our digital spaces from online harassment and exploitations must be designed, implemented and constantly reviewed.

Adopting these recommendations would go a long way in contributing towards achieving gender equality. Let’s work together to #EmbraceEquity for all women and girls because they matter.

Happy International Women’s Day!



Blog by Chidinma Ibemere, M.Sc. Education Leadership and Policy UN Women UK Delegate for CSW67