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International Women’s Day 2023 – Bridging the digital gender divide for equality in the HKH

Pema Gyamtsho

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Today is 8th March – International Women’s Day. Beyond celebrating the success of women in numerous fields and progress made in advancing gender equity globally, we must use this event as an urgent reminder that there is much more that needs to be done by all of us together to achieve gender equality in our region and to eradicate all forms of discrimination against women and girls.

Here at ICIMOD, we reaffirm our commitment to achieving gender equality, and to fostering women’s and girls’ empowerment as a first step to bridge the many gaps that exist. One such gap is the digital gender divide. UN Women’s theme for IWD 2023 is “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality” – highlighting the need for inclusive and transformative technology and digital education.

This IWD, we are focusing on the importance of digital innovation and technology for reducing gender inequality and tackling climate change. Our MTAP V 2023–2026 is committed to building capacity through digitalisation and engagement with women and the youth to collectively act on combating climate change and its impacts. Moreover, ICIMOD seeks to promote women-led innovations to accelerate gender equality. At the same time, we must actively protect the rights of women and girls, create spaces for using digital technology and online platforms safely and mitigate against gender-based violence occurring online or facilitated by ICTs.

Another gap that we seek to highlight during IWD is the underrepresentation of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields. According to UNESCO, women account for only 28% of engineering graduates and 40% of graduates in computer science and informatics fields essential for the transitioning to a just and low-carbon economy. The Global Gender Gap Report 2022 states that the pandemic, climate emergency and large-scale conflicts and displacement have halted the progress towards gender equality with an intensifying risk of reversal.

At the programmatic level, we continue to address the STEM gender gap through our training on women in geospatial information technology (GIT) under our SERVIR-HKH regional initiative and promoting leadership of women researchers and professionals in this sector. Under the spring revival work, we have trained a team of women para-hydrogeologists in long-term data gathering, monitoring and community mobilisation; this is to ensure their meaningful participation in spring governance. These interventions attempt to break gender stereotypes and showcase the critical role of women in STEM. However, challenges remain in the mountain context of the HKH, where access to digital technologies and innovation is almost non-existent for women and girls.

Women and girls in the HKH region are navigating through climate change-related uncertainty and hardships, and the disruptions to lives and livelihoods with growing water scarcity, unpredictable and extreme weather events, falling productivity, and poor access to financial resources and market linkages. With innovation and technology, there is great potential to promote context-specific solutions that are gender responsive, simple, and affordable. However, technology alone is not the solution. While technology holds great promise to help boost various aspects of climate action, the climate crisis is a complex challenge that cannot be solved with technology alone.

Focusing on climate adaptation and resilience of women and girls requires investing adequately in supporting, testing, and scaling digitally enabled solutions that benefit those most at risk and collaborations at scale through financing and promoting gender responsive policies needed for systemic change. While changing perceptions and narratives is a good start, more work is needed to attract and retain women in climate and tech roles to derive benefits from green solutions which cater to their needs and reduce climate risks.

Let’s use this IWD as a serious call to arms – to really drive forward gender and social inclusion work with impact, and to bridge the digital gender divide for equality in the HKH. At ICIMOD, we commit to ensure that equal opportunities rights for women are embedded in our organisational culture and in the programmes that we implement.

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