Statement for Annual discussion on the integration of a gender perspective throughout the work of the Human Rights Council and that of its mechanisms
Theme: The gender digital divide in times of the COVID-19 pandemic
48th Session of the Human Rights Council
We thank you for giving us the floor for this vital discussion on the gender digital divide in times of the Covid-19 pandemic. This statement is submitted on behalf of Plan International, Child Rights Connect, IPPF, Rutgers, Save the Children, SRI, World Vision and World YWCA.
Digital inequalities were already high among girls, women and other marginalised groups before COVID-19 but as the pandemic led to an increased digitalisation of life, these disparities have increased dramatically. COVID-19 lockdowns have meant that girls are unable to go online at internet cafes, public Wi-Fi spots, schools or friends’ houses. In homes, access to technology is often shared with and monitored by family members, further limiting girls access to and use of technology.
With restricted or no access to the internet, girls are at risk of missing out on online education following school closures, suffer increased social exclusion, and they may not have access to reliable and relevant information, including about the pandemic as well as sexual and reproductive health. The lack of digital access also had serious economic and health implications with the impossibility of working remotely and the maintained exposure to COVID-19.
Moreover, the internet remains a hostile place with online abuse and gender-based discrimination and violence disempowering girls and putting their safety at risk. By shutting them out of a space which plays a huge part in young people’s lives, it is limiting their potential to thrive and become leaders. In Plan International’s Free to be online campaign research, it emerged that 58 per cent of girls reported that they had personally experienced some form of online harassment on social media platforms.
We call on the UN and its Member States to apply a child rights-based and gender transformative approach to the digital environment and to:
- Expand and fund technological infrastructure improvements and prioritise programming that addresses the digital divide and redresses the gender inequalities in internet access and access to technology,
- Make mobile internet access more inclusive with a particular focus on making educational content and health-related information and content freely accessible through zero-rating relevant websites as well as increasing data allowances and lowering costs,
- Mainstream ICT and digital literacy in national curricula, and actively support and promote girls’ participation in these subjects, to ensure girls have equal access to opportunities in the workplaces of the future,
- Collect, analyse and track gender-disaggregated data on girls ICT access and use patterns,
- Ensure that ICT companies live up to their responsibilities to proactively protect girls’ rights and privacy as well as enable them to navigate the digital space without gender-based discrimination and harassment.