Gender equality and empowering women in the digital age

Terry Reintke
Terry Reintke

The European Commission has made the digital single market agenda one of its major priorities for the coming years. Many webpages have been filled, position papers written and press statements made about the enormous potential a digital single market holds for European citizens:  economic growth, innovation and competitiveness, free flow of online goods, just to name a few of the recurring buzzwords connected to the digital market strategy. However, not much has been said about the missed potentials - digitalisation must also be about inclusion, gender equality and participation.

There is a severe gender gap when it comes to the digital sector. Only 30% out of seven million Information and Communications Technology (ICT) employees are women. Women account for 60% of new graduates in the European Union. However, they are consistently under-represented in science and ICT sector. In 2013, only 29 out of every 1,000 female graduates have a computing or related degree (as compared to 95 men). Only four out of these 29 women started working in the ICT sector. Compared with other sectors the situation of women in decision-making positions is even worse. Only 19.2% of ICT sector workers have female bosses compared with 45.2% of non-ICT workers. This is a lot of missed potential.

The missing sex in the digital revolution

The EU Commission has started to implement programmes and campaigns to foster the interest of girls and women in ICT subjects. One example is the campaign "Every Girl Digital" from the EU Commission aiming at increasing the visibility of girls involved in technologies. However, we still stand at the very beginning of closing the gender gap in ICT. Member states need to make use of existing programmes. Moreover, relevant actors in the member states have to take a systematic and structural approach in changing the situation.

As a growing sector, the field of ICT opens up numerous new job opportunities. Every year 120,000 new jobs are created in the ICT sector. It is expected that, by 2020, 900,000 job openings will not be filled due to a lack of specialised personnel. Women need to be part of these developments. They need to be empowered in order to participate fully in the changing realities of digitalized societies.

Much of the innovative work in the ICT sector is done by small and medium size enterprises and start-ups. Taking a closer look it becomes clear that it is mainly men running the show. Thus funding structures and the access to resources are core challenges to a gender equal-digital arena. Especially with regards to the digital single market strategy, it needs to be ensured that investment is available for women as well as men. This is also of essential importance in order to ensure sustainable and socially just development

When we talk about the digital revolution and its opportunities, we should not shy away from also pointing out the negative developments related to the new digital realities. New forms of violence against women such as cyber harassment, stalking or revenge porn are part of the daily reality of women involved in the digital sector. We need to question how far current legal structures can ensure safety in the digital world for women; judicial bodies need to be sensitized and educated but we also need to build and foster strong feminist networks. We need to play an active and strong part in shaping the new digital reality, making it an inclusive, gender equal and participatory space for all of us.

By Terry Reintke, Member of the European Parliament.

She is the youngest female member of the European Parliament. She is a member of the committee for Regional Development, Employment and Social Affairs and Women's Rights and Gender Equality. In 2015 she initiated a report on gender equality and digitalisation in the Women's Rights Committee, for which she is the rapporteur.

Terry Reintke
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