Written by Martina Prpic, Rosamund Shreeves and Giulio Sabbatti,
As the ‘digital revolution’ expands into more areas of our lives, from the way we work, to how we consume, look after our health, learn and take part in politics, it is increasingly clear that this is not just a purely technical – or economic – process, but also a social one, and one which is not gender-neutral. Analysis of the risks and benefits finds that new information and communication technologies can be a gateway for women and girls to access new opportunities, means of expression and participation, and a powerful tool for advancing gender equality. In employment, for example, the digital sector offers highly skilled, better-paid jobs that could help to eliminate the gender pay gap. Likewise, the convergence between traditional and online media is blurring the boundaries between consumers and creators, and opening spaces for new voices, forms of awareness-raising and mobilisation – as the recent wave of ‘hashtag activism’ against sexual harassment has shown. On the other hand, if access is unequal, if algorithms or content available online are gender biased or do not reflect women’s needs and realities, or if women themselves are not involved in shaping that content, digitalisation can reinforce existing gender inequalities. It can also create new risks and barriers, not least the colonisation of online spaces by misogyny and cyber-violence.
The need to ensure digital inclusion, and tackle gender stereotyping and other barriers to access, skills, representation and safety affecting women and girls has been recognised globally in the Sustainable Development Goals, and within the EU’s Digital Single Market Strategy, together with the need for better data to inform action. The existing data point to a global digital gender divide. Within the EU, this is not so much a question of women and girls lacking basic internet access or skills – although there are gender differences, and the number of women who have never used the internet remains significant (14 % of women compared to 12 % of men). The gender gaps are much wider in advanced IT skills, tertiary education, employment and decision-making in the digital sector, with girls and women less likely to continue studying science and technology beyond the age of 15, enter or continue a career in ICT, reach specialist and managerial levels or start their own tech companies.
Research highlights that children’s perceptions of their own abilities and career aspirations are shaped early, and strongly influenced by attitudes and expectations in families, peer groups, schools, and wider society – including limiting or positive images, messages and role models conveyed by traditional and new media. Media monitoring shows that there has been some progress, but women continue to be under-represented as reporters and decision-makers and misrepresented in coverage across the news media as well as in film and other sectors.
Read this briefing on ‘Gender equality in the EU’s digital and media sectors‘ on the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.