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Digital gender gap: an urgent debt for the future

Digital gender gap: an urgent debt for the future

Since 2010, the fourth Thursday of April is International Girls in ICT Day. This initiative proposed by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), a specialized agency of the United Nations, seeks to reduce the digital gender gap by promoting technological vocations in girls and young people.

Why do we talk about the digital gender gap? Because women are missing on the Internet. Women who appropriate and decide on digital environments. Women who can remain in these spaces without suffering violence, aggression or disciplinary messages. Digital territories are social spaces where wonderful things happen, but also where move, enhance and reinforce disputes and historical discrimination. One of them is gender.

The digital gender gap refers to the differences between men and women in the access to computer equipment in the use of ICT and permanence in digital spaces. The digital gender divide is due to a combination of social factors that accumulate in forms of intentional or incidental discrimination; and in disadvantages that discourage women from participating in the digital world.

The digital gender gap has various edges, it is not simple or unique

On the one hand, we have the gap in access, that is, the one linked to girls, young people and women who manage to connect effectively to the Internet. This aspect of the digital gender gap is the one that has advanced the most in recent years. After the arrival of the pandemic and the increasing digitization of daily life, we can say, according to official data in Spain, that the access gap for women has been greatly reduced.

In the same way, we can affirm that women are accessing to connect more and more. They enter the Internet. They are there. So,why do we keep talking about gap? The answer is because there are other edges to investigate.

We meet a background of the gap: that of the type of use. What do women do on the Internet? Once connected, the mental load that women experience is also transferred to these environments. According to ECLAC, during the COVID 19 pandemic and the closure of schools, women largely absorbed the responsibility to maintain remote schooling for boys and girls. The time that women spend connected is largely used for their children’s school continuity, digital household procedures or family purchases.

The question we must ask ourselves then is,which digital spaces are not being occupied by girls and women? To analyze this aspect, we must understand that there is still a great inequality in terms of digital skills and the exercise of professions related to technology.

Greater inclusion of girls and women in STEM careers

In this line, it is necessary to analyze a third edge of the gap: permanence. Women not only have inequality in use and decision making. Once connected, the violence against women has an expulsive effect and self censorship. Sexist hate speech disciplines and defines what women should or should not express on social networks or digital platforms. Hate messages have as their ultimate goal a decrease in the right to expression of womenwho as a self defense must withdraw or reduce their participation in the platforms they like to use.

That is, women connect, but they tend to have partial use and have a hard time staying fully fit. When they manage to be there, the last key point to analyze in the digital gender gap gains ground: decision making. Women do not usually occupy hierarchical positions in decision making in these spaces. They are not usually designed or programmed. Indeed, there is still a great gender inequality in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) careers.

The collective imagination continues to develop around the figure of a young white man; and the lack of representativeness, both in the news and in literature, video games, series and movies, regarding women in technology generates a snowball effect: girls do not include in their imaginary the possibility of dedicating themselves to itsince they do not have the necessary references to visualize it within the field of what is possible.

Social and cultural change is urgent: we must rethink representation, stories and examples. We have to eliminate sexist digital violence and promote the permanence of women on the Internet. And, in turn, we must distribute the family burden that women experience. While these changes are happening, the State must guarantee equal rights not as a favor, but as an obligation.

As Marta Balenciaga, dean and president of the COIT (Official College of Telecommunications Engineers), maintains, “if we want to make the digital world an egalitarian space, it is necessary to promote digital public policies with a gender perspective so that opportunities are equitablefor both women and men in all digital fields”.