You Can Help Close the Digital Divide for Girls: 11 Days of Action
This year, the United Nations celebrates the 10th anniversary of the General Assembly resolution which declared October 11 as the International Day of the Girl Child, to recognize girls’ rights and the unique challenges girls face around the world.
The International Day of the Girl Child (IDG) focuses attention on the need to address the challenges girls face and to promote girls’ empowerment and the fulfillment of their human rights. This year’s celebration of the IDG demands a continued innovative approach to building connection while emphasizing the inclusion of voices often left out of these digital spaces.
The digital divide, or technology gap, is the difference between groups with access to technology and the internet and those without. Girls and women often have less access to technology and the internet compared to boys and men. In addition, stereotypes around technology being ‘for boys’ and fear of being discriminated against stop girls from using digital tools. Online experiences and opportunities are critical for children’s and young people’s development across a wide range of areas. These include engagement in online education, both formal and informal learning, access to critical information and support related to health and well-being, participation in creative and cultural practices, civic engagement and expression of ideas and opinions, leisure and connecting with peers, and searching for employment, career information and entrepreneurship opportunities.
Like many inequalities, the digital divide has been emphasized by the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to school closures over the past 18 months, remote learning has been essential to children’s education. Governments around the world have used a range of methods to support remote learning, including paper-based “take home” learning packages, radio, television, and online platforms. According to UNICEF data, girls face disadvantages in acquiring information and communications technology (ICT) skills, whether in school or at home. Adolescents who are not equipped with ICT skills will have difficulty navigating online learning platforms and are at risk of not being able to access online services as adults. These skills are important to keep girls in school during the pandemic.
Keeping girls in school and ensuring they have access to ICT skills both have important impacts on countries’ potential for economic growth and development. As of 2018, over 90% of jobs worldwide already have a digital component and most jobs will soon require sophisticated digital skills. If governments equip girls with digital skills through prioritizing education in ICT subjects, they will help girls thrive in economies where routine work has been automated and digital skills are prized. Moreover, if girls and women are not involved in creating digital tools and online content, they may exacerbate existing inequalities.
Without equal access to technology and the internet, girls are not able to equally participate in our ever more digital societies. Holding back girls in this area affects every aspect of their lives, including their ability to speak out and campaign on issues that affect them. Technology can be a powerful tool for girls to become activists and lead change on issues that affect them. Social media platforms, for instance, allow activists to reach a wide audience and organize action towards common causes.
Each year, the Working Group on Girls, a coalition of over 40 NGOs with representation at the United Nations, organizes the “Girls Speak Out” event, to put girls at the forefront to share their experiences, to listen to girls to hear what they need, and to partner with them in finding sustainable solutions to issues that they face. This year, they will be exploring the theme “Closing the Digital Divide to Accelerate Change” through their daily conversations on social media during the 11 Days of Action ahead of the IDG (1-11 October) and during the “Girls Speak Out” event.
Register to attend the online Girls Speak Out, which will take place on the International Day of the Girl Child on 11 October, from 10:00 AM – 12:00 PM EDT.
-Cecilie Kern, MGA Global Policy & Research Advocate