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Closing the Digital Gender Gap in access to e-commerce and financial services

March 8 is International Women’s Day and it is being celebrated today with the theme “Invest in Women: Accelerate Progress.”

According to the United Nations, the lack of financing — in the amount of US$360 billion per year — is one of the main challenges in achieving gender equality by 2030. Such is the sum needed annually to address poverty and hunger, and to support more equal participation of women in society.

Even as we try to address these longstanding concerns — including closing the gender gap in power and leadership positions, as well as gender imbalances in jobs; ensuring access to and completion of education; protecting women from intimate partner violence and gender discrimination; promoting a gender-equitable division of unpaid care and domestic work—there is already a new challenge ahead: the digital gender divide.

According to UN Women, the digital divide has become the new face of gender inequality. Global figures show that women are 18 percent less likely than men to own a smartphone, and far less likely to access or use the Internet. In 2022, 259 million more men than women were online.

In the technology sector, women occupy fewer positions. Women hold less than 25 percent of science, engineering, and ICT jobs, and women are twice less likely than men to know how to write a computer program. Women also face a gender pay gap of 21 percent, and nearly half of all women working in technology have experienced workplace harassment.

There is a need for urgent action to close the major gender gap in innovation and technology, otherwise, it can undo years of progress we have made to forward gender equality.

The gender digital divide has become apparent with our inevitable pivot to digital transformation. It exposed issues faced by women in the use of and access to ICT, as well as in other related sectors, such as e-commerce.

For women micro-entrepreneurs, slow or no internet connectivity, especially in the rural areas; lack of awareness, technical know-how, and skills in ICT; and low access to digital financing products, such as e-wallets and other banking services, have become barriers to further growth.

A Digital Readiness Study showed that while most have started their digital journey through social media sites, women entrepreneurs need more knowledge and skills to optimize the digital platform and convert engagement to sales. Women entrepreneurs could better compete if they have the necessary digital selling skills as well as access to credit.

We need to improve women’s use of and access to ICTs, while also creating safe online spaces. We must design digital products and services that are attuned to the needs of women. But in order to do so, women should be engaged in developing digital solutions. We must create an environment where women can confidently explore and engage in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and innovation.

We need to connect women with financial resources so they can start or grow their own business. The UN estimates that closing the credit gap for female-owned small and medium enterprises would result in a 12 percent increase in annual incomes on average by 2030. In addition, successful women entrepreneurs can create more jobs and drive innovation.

We must promote e-commerce as an opportunity for women to reach their full economic potential, and also use digital technology as a tool to expand women’s access to information, markets, finance, and networks.

Promoting women’s economic empowerment is in itself a strategy to address other gender-based issues, such as reducing gender-based violence, and increasing political and social participation and leadership.

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