International Women’s Day -2023: Innovation and technology for gender equality

By Dr. Santosh Kumar Mohapatra*

Each year International Women’s Day (IWD) is given a “theme”, and “campaign them” which often relates to contemporary events, trends, and struggles. The theme for International Women’s Day, 8 March 2023 (IWD 2023) is, “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality”. This theme is aligned with the priority theme for the upcoming 67th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW-67), “Innovation and technological change, and education in the digital age for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls”.

The session which will take place from 6 to 17 March 2023 will also review the agreed conclusions of the sixty-second session, “Challenges and opportunities in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls”. Hence, the United Nations Observance of IWD recognizes and celebrates the women and girls who are championing the advancement of transformative technology and digital education. IWD 2023 explores the impact of the digital gender gap, the digital divide, on widening economic and social inequalities.

The post-pandemic world: Covid has demonstrated the seminal importance of digital tools in today’s world. Technology and the internet can be great enablers for girls but a lack of opportunities, skills and a fear of discrimination prevent many from using and creating digital tools and online content.

To achieve gender equality, girls and young women need equal access to technology, digital training and to be safe online. Girls and women are denied access to digital technologies or less access because they almost always come second in a patriarchal social order. Particularly in developing countries, girls and women struggle to afford technology and internet access. In addition, stereotypes around technology being ‘for boys’ and fear of being discriminated against stop girls from using digital tools.

Various digital literacy programme shows that eliminating gender disparity in digital literacy can work wonders for the inclusion of women in the workforce. A person’s ability – or inability – to access computers and smart devices, can impact many facets of their life from paying bills to receiving emergency SMS alerts. It can also impact their health. India Development Foundation (IDF) released in September 2022 finds a sturdy link between women learning digital skills and a growth in their incomes and livelihood opportunities.

IWD 2023 will also explore the impact of the digital gender gap on widening economic and social inequalities, with a spotlight on the importance of protecting the rights of women and girls in digital spaces and addressing online and ICT-facilitated gender-based violence.


The digital divide/inequality/disparity, or technology gap, is the difference between groups with access to technology and the internet and those without. In other words, digital inequality, or the digital divide, refers to the gap between those who have access to modern information and communications technology (ICT) and those who don’t.

The digital gender divide has three components: (1) access and use of digital technologies and the internet; (2) development of the skills needed to use digital technologies and to participate in their design and production; and (3) advancement of women to visible leadership and decision-making roles in the digital sector.

The gender digital divide in access to the internet remains largest in the world’s least developed countries at 32.9 percent. The internet gap is largest in Africa, while in terms of mobile phone ownership, the gender digital divide is most pronounced in South Asia where women are 26 percent less likely to own a mobile phone than men.

According to a UNICEF report, as many as 90 per cent of the jobs in the world today have a digital component or require digital participation and sophisticated digital skills. These jobs, however, are available only to the digitally able, and to more men than women.

The report highlighted that in developing countries only 41 per cent of women have access to the internet compared with 53 per cent of men. Women are 20 per cent less likely to own a smartphone and are more likely to borrow phones from a male family member. The report states that young boys compared to young girls are 1.8 times more likely to own a smartphone.

Another report by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development revealed that the gender gap in internet use is widening. Software development remains a male-dominated field, with women comprising only 15 percent of software designers.

India’s Digital Gender gap renders more women digitally disabled than men. This is a situation that needs to be rectified. Data on the use of the internet in India indicate that in comparison with 58 percent of male internet users, female users are only 42 percent (ICUBE 2020). Data for first-time users of the internet shows a starker contrast between men who have ever used the internet at 57.1 percent compared with women at 33.3 percent.

The latest Mobile Gender Gap Report says the number of The Mobile Gender Gap Report 2022 shows that India’s digital gender gap continues to be wide, despite the initial uptick in women owning smartphones and using mobile phones in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. women with smartphones is only 26 percent versus 49 percent for men.

India hopes to work toward the issue and its place at the Leader’s Declaration in the G20 New Delhi Summit.G20 therefore can be expected to work on the digital inclusion of women throughout the year and not just as a part of the women’s day.

The National Family Health Survey-5 (2019-2021) reports only one in three women in India have ever used the internet, compared to more than half our men. The gap is even larger in rural India, with men being about twice as likely as women to have used the internet, at 49 percent against 25 percent respectively.

Over half of the women (53.9 percent) in India own mobile phones but amongst these only 22.5 percent reported using them for financial transactions. Though women’s mobile phone access is higher than their internet access, it is only 54 percent. In some states, including UP, it is less than 50 percent. Given the lower mobile phone usage by women, “naturally there would be a gender gap in internet usage”.

The digital gender gap also continues to persist because of restrictive gender norms. Girls and women are denied access to digital technologies because they almost always come second in a patriarchal social order .Are women able to exercise autonomy when it comes to owning their phones? How do they use them?

One major factor is India’s patriarchal culture that emphasizes women being the primary caregivers and homemakers coupled with social norms that often restrict women’s mobility, access to resources, and financial decision-making power. Financial constraints discourage them from owning mobile phones, especially smartphones, or accessing the internet and other digital financial services.


Women’s digital and technology-related literacy, measured by the share of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields, remains low at about 15 percent globally. Digital literacy has become almost as important as traditional literacy. If governments equip girls with digital skills by prioritizing education in ICT subjects, they will help girls thrive in economies where routine work has been automated and digital skills are prized.

Technology can also be a powerful tool for girls to become activists and lead change on issues that affect them. Social media platforms, for instance, allow activists to reach a wide audience and organise action toward common causes.

From social to financial inclusion, digital has become a survival accessory for people in India. Therefore, digital growth might never reach its full potential if it continues to exclude women. Growing inequalities around the world are becoming increasingly evident in the context of digital skills and access to technologies, with women being left behind as the result of a digital gender divide.

The need for inclusive and transformative technology and digital education is therefore crucial for a sustainable future. Bringing women and other marginalized groups into technology results in more creative solutions and has greater potential for innovations that meet women’s needs and promote gender equality.


The event on International Women’s Day, will also spotlight the importance of protecting the rights of women and girls in digital spaces and addressing online and Information and Communications Technology (ICT) -facilitated gender-based violence. The impact of the pandemic on violence against women and girls is a reality shaped by a gender digital divide.

Online gender-based violence is targeted harassment and prejudice through technology against people, disproportionately women, based on their gender. Online gender-based violence derives from gender-based violence but it is perpetuated through electronic means. Online gender-based violence can include unwanted sexual remarks, non-consensual posting of sexual media, threats, doxing, cyber stalking and harassment, and gender-based discriminatory memes and posts among other things.

Online gender-based violence may occur through various ways. These include impersonation, hacking, spamming, tracking and surveillance, malicious sharing of intimate messages and photos. A survey of women journalists from 125 countries found that 73 percent had suffered online violence in the course of their work.

Gender-based violence differs from these because of the attention it draws to discrimination and online violence targeted specifically because of their gender, most frequently those who identify as female.


An act of violence perpetrated by one or more individuals that are rooted in gender inequality and gendered norms and that is committed, assisted, aggravated, and amplified in part or fully by the use of information and communication technologies or digital media, against a person on the basis of their gender. A survey of women journalists from 125 countries found that 73 percent had suffered online violence in the course of their work.

Today, a persistent gender gap in digital access keeps women from unlocking technology’s full potential. And the pervasive threat of online gender-based violence—coupled with a lack of legal recourse—too often forces them out of the digital spaces they do occupy.

UN Women makes recommendations to be considered by governments, women’s rights organizations, civil society organizations, internet intermediaries, and other practitioners committed to enhancing women’s and girls’ online safety.


Realizing ‘her’ potential: India aims to have a $1 trillion digital economy by 2025. Already, 40 per cent of global digital transactions take place in India. In 2022, a staggering 49 billion digital transactions took place in India. From social to financial inclusion, digital has become a survival accessory for people in India. Therefore, digital growth might never reach its full potential if it continues to exclude women.

Leveraging India’s demographic dividend requires an equal emphasis on the country’s gender dividend. Educated, economically productive, empowered, and socially aware women and girls are highly valued in any society. A rapid digital transformation is already taking place.

There are vast opportunities for girls and women to power India’s digital economy and benefit from it. We have the world’s largest young population, and women and girls constitute almost half of it. Access to digital technology for a young woman can be a game changer with multiplier effects.

Bridging the gender gap will require smart interventions specially designed for girls and women in health, education, employment, banking, skilling, and transportation.


India needs to double down on bridging its digital gender gap. Leveraging our demographic dividend will require the gender dividend of digital empowerment. The governments, activists, and the private sector alike to power on in their efforts to make the digital world safer, more inclusive, and more equitable. Facing a multiplicity of global crises, we have a chance to create a better future—not just for women and girls, but for all humanity and all life on Earth. Join us.

A gender-responsive approach to innovation, technology, and digital education can increase the awareness of women and girls regarding their rights and civic engagement. Advancements in digital technology offer immense opportunities to address development and humanitarian challenges and to achieve the 2030 Agenda’s Sustainable Development Goals.



The author is an Odisha-based eminent columnist/economist and social thinker. He can be reached through e-mail at [email protected]


DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of Sambad English.


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