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UN commission calls for closing the digital gender gap

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The UN’s main global body fighting for gender equality on Saturday called for far-reaching efforts to close the gap between men and women in today’s technology-driven world and urged zero tolerance for gender-based violence and harassment online.

In a document approved by consensus following nightly negotiations at the end of a two-week meeting, the Commission on the Status of Women expressed serious concerns about the interrelationship between offline and online violence, harassment and discrimination against women and girls – and it condemned the increase in these acts.

It called for a significant increase in investment by the public and private sectors to bridge the digital gender gap. It also called for the removal of barriers to equal access to digital technology for all women and girls, and for new policies and programs to achieve gender equality in emerging science and technology fields.

Sima Bahous, executive director of UN Women, a United Nations entity focused on gender equality and empowerment, called the document “pioneering” in promoting a blueprint for a more equal and connected world for women and girls. The challenge, she said, is now for governments, the private sector, civil society and youth to turn the blueprint “into reality for all women and girls.”

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At the start of the commission’s two-week meeting, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the focus came at just the right time, as women and girls are left behind while technology is at the doorstep.

“Three billion people are still not connected to the internet, the majority of them women and girls in developing countries, (and) in least developed countries, only 19% of women are online,” Guterres said. “Globally, girls and women make up only a third of students in science, technology, engineering and math” and in the technology industry there are twice as many men as women.

Bahous told the opening meeting that “the digital divide has become the new face of gender inequality,” with 259 million more men than women online last year. She also cited a survey of female journalists from 125 countries that found three-quarters had experienced online harassment at work and a third had engaged in self-censorship in response.

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The “agreed upon conclusions” document adopted by the 45-member commission on Saturday calls for equal quality education for women and girls in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, information and communication technology and digital literacy so that they can thrive in the fast-changing world.

During protracted negotiations on the document, which has 93 paragraphs, UN diplomats said the women’s rights language was challenged by Russia, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Holy See and that the human rights language was also challenged by those countries, as well as Cuba and China. There were also intense language debates about gender-based violence, facilitated by technology, they said, speaking on the condition of anonymity as negotiations were closed.

The final document reaffirms Beijing’s 1995 platform, adopted by 189 countries, which said for the first time in a UN document that women’s human rights include the right to control and decide “on matters related to their sexuality, including their sexual and reproductive health, free from discrimination, coercion and violence.”

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The final point standing in the way of consensus was Pakistan’s insistence on adding a reference to “foreign occupation” to the document, and Israel’s strong opposition, diplomats said. The reference was not included and before the document was adopted, the Pakistani representative regretted that the needs and priorities of women belonging to developing countries facing humanitarian crises, including foreign occupation, had not been included.



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