NEW YORK, MARCH 12 – Internet as a force in gender equality. This is exactly what Italy, Jordan, and UN Agencies hope to achieve throughout six countries in North Africa and the Middle East, generally referred to as the MENA Region. A recent study by UNIDO found that in Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine, and Tunisia, women’s access to the internet is less than that of men. The report also noted that these countries face a significant disparity in gender unemployment. 20% of women being unemployed, twice the rate of men, while high school graduate women face a staggering unemployment rate of 25%. UN Women, UNIDO, FAO, ITU, and APED are the agencies that will assist in using digital technologies to promote and sustain parity between the genders.
The situation in the region is no doubt a problem, but it offers opportunities to change. “The internet can accelerate the process of [gender] parity quickly and in doing so transform women’s lives. Thus, facilitating access to work, balancing the relationship between life and work, but also preventing violence against women,” said Italian Vice President of the Chamber of Deputies, Maria Edera Spadoni, who was in New York during the 63rd Commission on the Status of Women.
The events opening remarks were given by Italy’s permanent representative to the UN, Mariangela Zappia, who heralded Italy’s efforts in women’s empowerment in the MENA region through cooperative initiatives such as the Women’s Mediators in the Mediterranean Network. Zappia reaffirmed Italy’s partnership with the UN’s Department of Foreign Affairs, and praised the Secretary General’s strategy on using new technologies to increase women’s inclusion. “Digital technology can represent a powerful tool to transform the ways in which women live and work” said Zappia who went on to add, “Programmes like the one we are discussing today favoring women’s entrepreneurship, are not only strategic for women’s advancement in society, but also for promoting peace, stability and long-term growth.” According to Zappia, strengthening women’s participation in digital technologies will greatly reinforce their role in conflict management and resolution. “digital technology can contribute to advancing the Women, Peace and Security Agenda in the framework of the National Action Plans, by broadening the meaningful participation of women as well as their representation in the MENA Countries’ political and decision-making processes, including national reconciliation,” the Ambassador said.
All the panelists noted that difficulty in gathering accurate data on the level of women’s digital literacy in the region. However, as Susan Kaaria from the FAO noted “the digital divide is particularly acute in rural areas; rural women are still on the wrong the side.”