The Digital Revolution: Implications for Gender Equality and Women’s Rights 25 Years After Beijing

UN Women Expert Group: Background Paper

Authored by: Judy Wajcman, Erin Young, Anna FitzMaurice

Categories: Human Rights
Sub-Categories: Economic Participation, Human Development
Country: USA
Year: 2019
Citation: Judy Wajcman, Erin Young, and Anna FitzMaurice, “The Digital Revolution: Implications for Gender Equality and Women’s Rights 25 Years after Beijing,” Background Paper, Sixty-Fourth Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW 64) ‘Beijing +25: Current Context, Emerging Issues and Prospects for Gender Equality and Women’s Rights’ (New York, New York: UN Women, September 2019).

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Executive Summary

The digital revolution, alongside new risks and challenges, brings immense potential to improve social and economic outcomes and enhance productivity growth and population well-being globally. However, despite a number of important interventions and policies aimed at furthering women’s empowerment and gender equality within this ‘revolution’, a significant digital gender gap (still) exists, limiting the equitable realisation of the benefits of digital transformation (OECD, 2018). Analysis from the EQUALS research group, led by the United Nations University (UNU), shows that ‘a gender digital divide persists irrespective of a country’s overall ICT access levels, economic performance, income levels, or geographic location’ (Sey and Hafkin, 2019: 25). Women are underrepresented in the digital revolution across high, low and middle-income countries.

To address this digital gender divide, much more attention needs to be paid to the structural factors (economic, social and political) that underpin the development, design and use of digital technologies. The digital transformation holds the promise of greater gender equality but, at the same time, poses the risk of repeating and amplifying existing patterns of gender inequality. This paper illustrates how digital technologies shape, and are shaped by, gender relations and gendered power structures. It then identifies potential risks and opportunities, presenting recommendations for shaping technology in ways that prevent harm and instead contribute to advancing gender equality and women’s rights in the digital age. In the body of the text we examine three substantive areas: education, work and social/welfare services.