3rd plenary meeting - 59th Session of the Commission for Social Development (CSocD59)
The 59th session of the Commission for Social Development (CSocD59) will take place from 8 to 17 February 2021 at the…
“Socially just transition towards sustainable development: the role of digital technologies on social development and well-being of all”.
The theme of the 59th Commission for Social Development in 2021 is extremely relevant and important and I would like to highlight that it must ensure that all people — women and girls as well — must be included. However that is not the case in India, where we are still struggling to meet the standards of equality and inclusiveness when it comes to women and girls.
Despite the Beti bachao, beti padhao (Save daughters, educate daughters) campaign of the Government of India, we still have a horrific sex ratio. Recent statistics for 2 of the states — Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh indicate that female births have declined to 806 per 1000 male births.
This skewed sex ratio indicates that girls are seen as a liability and a burden and impacts their status in society. In rural areas, education of girls is still not a priority. Many families deny girls an education because of poverty, violence, child labor, early marriage, abuse within and outside families, and lack of care and nutrition. Further, the education system is inefficient — lack of teachers, lack of school buildings, electricity, toilets, infrastructure and more.
During COVID19 education for all children moved online and we were not prepared. Unfortunately, we have seen a large percentage of girls being disadvantaged and discriminated against because either they did not have access to digital devices or were not given preference to use them or they didn’t have access to the internet. The impact of the girls losing out a year of education can only be assessed in the future.
Unless we take a holistic and multi perspective approach which places the girls at the centre of our policy design, we will not be able to solve this problem. In our work, we have come across girls who want to aspire for more — they want to be astronauts, police officers, doctors and teachers. But in many homes they are not allowed to pursue education beyond a point for a multitude of reasons as explained earlier. We have to change the way girls are perceived and build their confidence in themselves and in those around them.
The 2030 agenda cannot be achieved without addressing the status of women and girls. The 2018 Mckinsey study points out that women’s participation in the Indian labour force is at 25% which is below average for its economic size. This was preCovid. During COVID that number is much lower. Yet the study points out that if women were to equally participate in the labour force, India can add 770 billion dollars to its GDP. So one must reflect on what is holding women back from achieving their potential.
Some of the main reasons are lack of acknowledgment and pay for domestic work and child care. Indian women carry out unpaid work at home for an average 5.5 hours daily more than their male counterparts. This further contributes to their perceived status as being secondary to men. During COVID this has further worsened with women being responsible for their children’s education with little or no support.
We are all aware of the shadow pandemic of gender based violence which has been exacerbated during COVID19. The rates of domestic or intimate partner violence, online harassment, child abuse and abuse of LGBTQ persons increased dramatically during lockdown. The National Commission for Women in India recorded a 94% increase in distress calls within the first two weeks of the lockdown being announced. With no access to transport and their own mobile or internet connectivity women were trapped in their homes with their abusers. A home is supposed to be a safe space, not one where there is no refuge.
My work has focused on crowdsourcing anonymous personal stories of sexual and gender based violence using technology which can geo tag these stories and make them available in open source format for everyone to use. My experience is that it democratises access to information, it makes visible a highly taboo topic of sexual and gender based violence, it allows one to begin dialogue without confrontation and encourages building trust with institutional stakeholders because an individual or a community can demand accountability and discuss possibilities and options using evidence based data.
Whilst digital technology has the ability to accelerate progress, connect people, provide relevant information, build capacity and drive accountability, our unconscious bias and socio-cultural norms can make it exclusive and biased.
So we need to be intentional in how we develop technology and related policies in an inclusive manner to bridge the gap in inequality, leave no one behind and drive sustainable change. Some of our recommendations are:
- Make access to the internet and digital devices a human right.
- Treat the internet as a public good and take immediate & long-term action to bridge the gender, locational and disability digital divide;
- Ensure that women and young girls are able to access high quality (formal and informal education) to be able to take part in the decision making process related to science developments, mainstreaming inclusive technology and innovation policies.
- Incorporate the tools of feminist analysis, especially intersectionality, into the creation and evaluation of policies and programs in order to target those furthest behind.
- Provide disaggregated, timely data at the national, regional, and global levels, to identify gaps and set plans to narrow inequalities including crimes against women and girls.
- Commit to forms of governance where cities and their citizens, including youth- and girl-led organizations and feminist and women’s organizations, participate in decision-making on the planning of spaces and their management.
- Integrate all climate change and health policies, strategies, and plans with, but not limited to, the SDGs. These must include responses to safeguard and provide for the health of women and girls, including sexual and reproductive health, as well as strategies to end child, early, and forced marriage and gender-based violence.
If we need to have sustainable development we need to put women and girls at the centre of the digital technology and social development agenda.
This was my statement on 8 Feb 2021 at the High-Level Panel Discussion on the Priority Theme for the 59th session of the United Nations Commission for Social Development