Message from Ms. Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, on the Occasion of International Women’s Day
“Women in the Digital Space”
8 March 2019
This year’s International Women’s Day, we celebrate women’s contributions to society – particularly in the digital space – and reflect on how we can ensure women fully enjoy their rights.
Digital technologies are affecting the ways in which we work, learn, teach and live together. Unfortunately, women are not necessarily fully benefiting from this technological revolution. A recent report by the Broadband Commission, co-authored by UNESCO, concluded that the gender digital divide is actually increasing: in 2016, there were over 250 million fewer women online than men that year. Women are not only less connected, but benefit less from digital literacy and skills training, are less likely to be hired by tech companies, and often earn less than their male colleagues.
Even within some of the most cutting-edge fields of science – digital technologies and artificial intelligence – women are at a disadvantage. Only 22 per cent of artificial intelligence professionals are female, for example. This year, UNESCO seeks to redress the balance as we celebrate pioneering women who have pushed back the boundaries of our knowledge in fields such as quantum computing, digital innovation and artificial intelligence. By highlighting the successes of these women, we hope to encourage a new generation of young women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, where they remain under-represented. We work to encourage girls and women to take up STEM fields, and particularly to develop digital skills, for example through the recently launched “Girls Can Code” project.
In the cultural field, we also support women’s access to digital creation and we are promoting gender equality in the creative industries through the “You Are Next” initiative. In partnership with Sabrina Ho, UNESCO is equipping hundreds of young women from Mexico, Palestine, Senegal, Afghanistan and Tajikistan with the artistic, digital and entrepreneurial skills needed to succeed in the digital environment.
Despite such initiatives and many female role models in the digital sphere, women are increasingly removing themselves from online platforms to protect themselves from cyber-attacks and harassment. One in 10 women in the European Union report having experienced cyber-harassment since the age of 15, particularly among young women between 18 and 29 years of age. UNESCO – as a United Nations agency dedicated to information and communication – is at the forefront of the fight against gender discrimination, deconstructing the stereotypes that spread through the media, as well as fighting harassment online.
To contribute to tackling stereotypes, I invite you to join the global #Wiki4Women contributory movement. On Wikipedia pages only one biography out of six is currently devoted to a woman. By creating or completing biographies on extraordinary women in culture, education and the sciences on Wikipedia, UNESCO aims to give them the digital existence they deserve. Building on last year’s successful “edit-a-thon” at UNESCO Headquarters, UNESCO is once again collaborating with the Wikimedia Foundation, in organizing “edit a-thon” workshops in Cairo, Delhi, Bangkok, Lima and Almaty, as well as Paris.
UNESCO is committed to making a positive and lasting contribution to women’s empowerment and gender equality. Each one of us can make a difference, by rejecting bias and discrimination, ensuring that online spaces are safe for all, celebrating women’s achievements and fostering women’s contribution in the digital sphere, and all spheres of life.