Rewiring the network: Digital education and skills for girls’ and women’s empowerment
CSW67 Side Event
7th March 2023, 8-15 – 9:30 am
Opening Remarks by H.E. Eugenia Maria Roccella, Minister for Family, Natality and Equal Opportunities, Italy
Dear Representatives and International Organizations,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am really pleased to open this side event on education and digital skills to empower girls and women.
First, I would like to thank the co-sponsors, UNESCO, UNICEF, and the Group of Friends for Education and Lifelong Learning, in collaboration with UN Women, who agreed to support the Italian proposal to organize this event about an issue towards which Italy is particularly sensitive and attentive.
The goal of this event is to examine the state of the art of gender disparities in the digital access, skills and online learning and to underline the key role digital education has in fostering women’s empowerment.
But a decrease in the gender gap can only be achieved by removing those obstacles, such as access to education, the job market and finance, that still prevent women from developing their full potential, including information technology.
Achieving male-female equality, in terms of access to advanced digital skills and professions related to new technologies, is a goal that needs the participation of several actors to succeed in disrupting those mechanisms and stereotypes that lead to distorting effects in the role of women and girls, particularly in the choice of study paths related to new technologies.
Investing in women’s talent could be a crucial turning point that makes them more competitive to enter and advance in the labor market and enables them to take the lead as agents of change and inclusion, as well as limiting the risks for women to be in poverty, discrimination, and violence.
In this context, I would like to emphasize how family and school system play a key role in enhancing personal talents of boys and girls, by helping in everyday life to reshape the perception about preferential study paths and overcoming the social representation of jobs for men or women.
In recent years, there has been a growing awareness of the need to change the foundations and structure of our educational systems. Indeed, education and training play a fundamental role in counteracting obstacles to gender equality in access to digital skills. It is through the education system that mechanisms underlying girls’ educational choices and paths can be influenced.
Training in digital and STEM disciplines enables women to access careers and be better protected in their maternity choices to ensure quality employment and career advancement. In addition, new technologies might help women to deal with motherhood tasks and can promote work-life balance and the sharing of care responsibilities.
The intergenerational dimension is also remarkable in this context. Digital education should further focus on the specific needs of adult women, who often lack basic digital skills, in order to leave no one behind. Moreover, gender stereotypes affect digital community. Data sets, algorithms and machine learning patterns are often not neutral because built on gender biases.
Finally, let me spend a few words on the Italian experience. In Italy, although only 40% of new students in STEM subjects are women, the trend is lightly encouraging and the percentage of women who obtain a post-graduate doctorate in the STEM fields is 5 points above the European average. Recently important public institutions are being led by women who hold top positions, such as Polytechnic of Milan and the Gran Sasso Institute, and this fact is inspiring for many girls and women who are reflecting about their study and career’s path in STEM.
But public policies need to do more, and I would like to mention the national multi-stakeholder action Digital Republic, launched in 2022, that includes a focus on overcoming the gender digital divide in digital skills. It’s an example of how to create synergies in actions to support women’s participation in digital transformation processes.
I am truly convinced that this occasion represents an important exchange of knowledge on innovative actions carried out to overcome stereotypes and prejudices that fuel the knowledge gap between men and women in terms of access to advanced digital skills and new technology-related professions.
Thank you for your attention, and I’m glad to leave the floor to the following speakers, looking forward to hearing the exchange of knowledge and good practices and wishing for the success of this event.