United Nations Secretary General Atonio Guterres has warned that the gender digital divide is fast becoming the new face of gender inequality.
Women and girls now face a new source of discrimination and bias: digital technology. Today’s digital technology often uses algorithms designed by a male-dominated tech industry, based on male-dominated data, he said on Monday.
Rather than presenting facts and addressing bias, technology based on incomplete data and badly designed algorithms is digitising and amplifying sexism — with deadly consequences, he warned.
Medical decisions based on data essentially from men can damage women’s health. Safety features based on men’s bodies can put women’s lives at risk. And policies based on men’s data will leave women and girls even farther behind, he told a townhall meeting with civil society at the 67th session of the Commission on the Status of Women, Xinhua news agency reported.
Artificial intelligence will be shaping the world of the future. Without women’s equal input, it will continue to be a man’s world, he added. “The gender digital divide is fast becoming the new face of gender inequality.”
Rather than uplifting women and girls by providing access to education, healthcare and financial services, technology is often used to harm and control them through surveillance and trafficking, Guterres said.
Online spaces are not safe for women and girls. Gender-based violence online has increased exponentially. Organised campaigns target women politicians, journalists and activists — a direct attack on women’s representation and on democracy itself.
So-called influencers denigrate women and feed misogyny and toxic forms of masculinity to millions of young men and boys. Groups that campaign against women’s rights find a warm welcome on digital platforms, he noted.
Centuries of patriarchy and damaging stereotypes prevent women innovators from getting the recognition they deserve. Those same stereotypes push girls away from studying science, engineering, and math, and strangle the careers of women scientists. Women are credited less for their achievements, win far fewer prizes, and receive less research funding than men, even when they have the same conditions. Just two per cent of venture capital investment goes to start-ups founded by women, he said. “This must change.”
The male chauvinist domination of new technologies is undoing decades of progress on women’s rights. Gender equality is a question of power. For more than 100 years, that power was gradually becoming more inclusive.