The journeys of women and girls who have excelled in the digital world are often characterized by hardships and a lot of struggle. This is mainly because these women and girls are pushing against the barriers and stereotypes that have created a view of the digital world as a ‘man’s’ world. Not only is this view not an accurate reality, but it also limits women’s ability to access equal opportunities and treatment in the digital world.
From ‘are you sure this is what you want to do?’, to ‘this is a difficult course are you sure you will be able to manage?’ to ‘this is a man’s thing’.These are just some of the comments that women and girls receive when they share their aspirations of pursuing careers in technology. These comments discourage women and girls and pass down the idea that technology and digital spaces are not meant for women and girls. It doesn’t end there, apart from these backward beliefs, there are also structural barriers that widen the digital gender divide which puts women and girls at a great disadvantage when they try to make their way into the digital world.
The digital gender divide is the difference between groups with access to technology and the internet and those without where girls and women often have less access to technology and the internet compared to boys and men. Additionally, stereotypes around technology being ‘for boys’ and fear of being discriminated against stop women and girls from using digital tools. Without equal access to technology and the internet, girls and women are not able to participate equally in the ever-changing digital space. Holding back girls and women in this area affects every aspect of their lives, including their ability to speak out and campaign on issues that affect them. Moreover, if girls and women are not involved in creating digital tools and online content, then their needs and realities end up not being addressed by these tools.
Aside from the digital gender divide, online gender-based violence is a significant problem that women and girls face in digital spaces. Things like body shaming, degrading comments, and stalking are among some of the violations that women and girls face when they try to utilize digital spaces. These violations cause many women to shy away from using these spaces to share their progress, advance their careers, and get crucial information. When this happens, women and girls are left behind as the world evolves and becomes more digitalized. If we are to have equal access to technology for all, we need to recognize online Gender Based Violence as a barrier to women’s ability to fully utilize digital spaces and work toward making the digital world safe for women and girls.
The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day, “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality called upon us to reflect on the impacts that the digital gender divide has on the achievement of gender equality and work towards its eradication. For this to happen, we need to be intentional about ensuring that girls are able to access technology in schools from a young age and ultimately throughout their lives. These stereotypes start and end with us and it is therefore our responsibility to ensure that we do not pass down these harmful and retrogressive beliefs that limit women and girls' ability to fully tap into the digital world. Bringing women and girls into technology results in more creative solutions and has greater potential for innovations that meet women’s needs and promote gender equality.