DIGITALL: INNOVATION AND TECHNOLOGY FOR GENDER EQUALITY
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Girls and adolescents in Latin America and the Caribbean face serious limitations when accessing and making equitable use of digital technologies. These limitations are caused by different situations resulting from gender inequalities that are still prevalent not only at the social level, but also at the educational, corporate, and normative levels. They have gender-specific consequences, which perpetuate a the disadvantage for girls and teenagers in comparison to their male peers - in their personal growth and social positioning.
In early February 2023, Save the Children gathered 35 girls and adolescents from the region from partner organizations of the Regional Civil Society Support Program (PASC) - which is implemented in 16 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean - to learn about their experiences, the challenges they identify, their expectations, as well as their proposals for progress towards a more equitable society in a digital environment.
This document, along with a video produced alongsidewith the partner organization Chicos.net, compiles some of the reflections and proposals that emerged during this dialogue between girls and adolescents from Guatemala, Honduras, Peru, Bolivia, Venezuela, Argentina and Ecuador, whom we thank for their valuable contributions and for their courage in sharing their experiences.
Based on the central theme of the 67th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) , dedicated to "Innovation and technological change, and education in the digital age for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls," the dialogue with girls and adolescents organized by Save the Children was focused on three priority themes:
- Access and use of digital platforms gender gap.
- Online protection, safety, and Security.
- Role of States in prevention, accompaniment, and protection.
Access and use of digital platforms gender gap
According to the ´´Mobile Gender Gap´´ 2022 report (GSMA), the digital inclusion of women in low- and middle-income countries slowed down in 2021, given that in previous years the gender gap had been closing at faster rates. The report shows that women and girls are 16% less likely than men to use mobile internet. Additionally, girls have less access to knowledge and use of technologies compared to boys, which limits their usage further.
In response to these data, the participating girls and adolescents identify the economic situation, place of residence, genderdifferentiated raising, the overload of household chores or the lack of digital skills as priority causes for which they face greater limitations in accessing the Internet and digital platforms. They recognize the differentiated expectations placed on them and their male siblings: "Parents had more confidence in their male children to perform better academically than their female siblings. That is why they restricted internet access during the pandemic, because they did not trust the girls" (Leydi, Peru).
They also refer to the differentiated use of platforms. For example, Rebeca (El Salvador) shares that "there is this gap in which girls have less access to the Internet by culture, where it permeates that boys have more skills to learn technology and girls have other skills, such as cooking, using the broom.... Not a computer. These are stereotypes imposed by society". They also identify the limited use of technologies in schools and the limited access to courses with digital content, which hinders the learning of digital skills. This has consequences for professional development, for example, in the selection of STEM careers. Camila (Bolivia) reinforces this idea: "In my engineering study room I am the only woman. There is no direct promotion of women in the STEM area. The fact that women are not participating in these careers means that the gaps are much wider".
Online protection, safety, and security
The PRODEMU Foundation offers an illustrative fact about the safety of the digital environment through a survey of Chilean women conducted in 2021. According to the survey, 65% of women under the age of 29 consider the Internet to be unsafe for them. Women and girls in the region are also commonly subjected to digital crimes such as threats, sexual harassment, sextortion, cyberbullying, grooming, and non-consensual disclosure of intimate images. In most cases, girls and adolescents feel that their parents are distrustful of their use of the digital environment, but also overprotect them due to fear of the risks and dangers that may specifically impact them, unlike their male siblings.
For example, Ana (Peru) shares that "During the pandemic, I had friends who had to do their homework for an hour at a certain (specific) time because then they could no longer use the cell phone or the computer. Their parents saw it as a danger for them to access the Internet at those hours. There was no confidence that they could do anything useful. They even said: my dad will think negatively. Their male siblings could use the devices as late as they wanted to".
Some of the adolescents we consulted have already experienced violations of their rights in the digital environment, such as sexual harassment or cyberbullying, and in some cases, they have not received the response they expected to address these crimes. Additionally, they have identified mental health issues that girls and adolescents face when dealing with these situations. "I got into those risks, (older adults) were sending me things they shouldn't have. I went to my mom for help, and she wanted to take away the internet because I was exposed to these risks. It is good for our parents to protect us, to check some of the things we do, but not to deny us access (to the Internet)" (Ruth, Peru).
Adolescent girls feel that girls are more vulnerable than boys when risks associated with the digital environment are addressed, when children are also vulnerable. Even so, women and girls are more exposed to sexual harassment in digital environments, as well as other risks that can endanger even their lives. However, they all agree that digital platforms have their good side and therefore it is necessary to advance in protection measures, information, know how to detect threats and know the processes to act.
Role of States in prevention, accompaniment, and protection.
The region lacks specialized institutions that focus on cybercrimes, and the existing ones do not consider gender perspectives. This results in re-victimization and blame of survivors of such crimes. Due to the absence of prevention and protection strategies, protocols, and policies, creating equitable and safe digital environments remains a significant challenge for the region. Girls and adolescents share different ideas in this regard. They consider that society does not have enough information about cybercrime, and this has a direct impact on their rights.
"There is a lot of manipulation regarding aggressors. And it should be made clear that this is a crime, which should be punishable. And there should be a more accessible system, a place where allegations can be made safely" (Esmeralda, Peru). Among their solutions, there is a larger awareness in schools about these risks and also about the regulations that each country has to protect against these crimes.
"It is necessary to reinforce courses and technology platforms aimed at children and adolescents, to teach them how to move safely through these platforms. Because their use will become more and more prominent" (Marcia, Peru).
Among the challenges, they emphasize the lack of mechanisms for reporting and accompanying survivors of these crimes. "The State must do much better in improving the spaces where allegations against this type of cybercrime are received. They do not pay enough attention to this area. In pandemic there were too many (allegations) and they did not have the tools to deal with these crimes, that is why they went unpunished. They should train the staff who are going to respond" (María, Peru). Finally, they emphasize the importance of talking about these issues and advocating for progress, even with a cost.
"As a girl, you feel judged for talking about these issues. They bully you for supporting these issues that (they) believe have no future. But if they knew what girls suffer, they would think differently" (Cesia, Guatemala).