Closing gender divide can save lives

Tech Reporter

A new report from the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and the Emergency Telecommunications Cluster (ETC), titled Women, ICT and Emergency Telecommunications: Opportunities and Constraints, highlights that equal access to information and communication technology (ICT) can save lives in emergencies, including during pandemics.

  Conversely, the digital gender divide is blocking women from becoming equal stakeholders in society, putting entire communities at greater risk during emergencies.

  “In the wake of disaster, women are more vulnerable and more likely to die than men. The Covid-19 pandemic has devastating social and economic consequences for women and girls because they comprise the majority of healthcare workers, are over-represented in the informal economy and take on most domestic work; significantly compounding pre-existing inequalities,” the report says.

  It adds that women are critical partners in building disaster resilience; however, existing barriers limit their ability to protect themselves, and to participate in disaster decision-making throughout the disaster risk management cycle.

  “A woman’s ability to access accurate information has a direct impact on her own survival and disaster resilience, and also on that of the wider community,” it says.

  According to the report, women are still 17% less likely to use the Internet than men, with an even wider gap in least developed countries. Women in low- and middle-income countries are also 10% less likely to own a mobile phone than men. 

  CEO and director of technology for the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and ETC chairperson, Enrica Porcari says access to communication technologies plays a central role in managing emergencies. 

  “It’s vital for people to receive early warnings, accurate information and humanitarian assistance or even just to contact loved ones. Leaving women out of that communication loop has a huge knock-on effect that puts millions of lives at risk,” Porcari says.  

  The report examines the impact of ICT for men and women in the same environments with the same infrastructure.

  ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau director Doreen Bogdan-Martin says gender-based inequality shows up in the use of information and communication technology as well as in their design, development and launch; and crucially, in how they are used in disaster risk management says. 

  “Yet putting these technologies in the right hands can transform the way women and their communities prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters,” she adds.

  ITU secretary-general Houlin Zhao says this report will go a long way towards integrating women’s needs into national disaster risk reduction frameworks. 

  “The good practices put forward aim to help decision-makers ensure that they get access to the digital tools that can play an important role in their own safety, and that of families and communities,” Zhao says.

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