By Mary Barby P. Badayos-Jover, PhD
Today’s celebration of International Women’s Day has seemingly disparate yet focused themes. The UN’s theme, “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality”, concentrates on a terrain that has become pervasive nowadays, whether we realize it or not. For while the notions of “innovation and technology” brings to mind imagery of robotics or super computers, we are all actually immersed in the products of innovation and technology now, even if we are just laughing at funny TikTok videos or ordering online. The UN thus implicitly poses the question—Is innovation and technology gender-fair? The statistics shared by the UN in its website for this year’s Women’s Day underscores that it is not. Apparently, women are not only underrepresented in the field of artificial intelligence but also experience gender bias. (see https://www.unwomen.org/en/news-stories/in-focus/2023/03/in-focus-international-womens-day). Quite alarmingly, the UN also shared that 73% of female journalists surveyed in 125 countries said they experienced online violence in their line of work. So apart from “a persistent gap in digital access that keeps women from unlocking technology’s full potential, the threat of online gender-based violence and the lack of legal recourse to address it forces women out of the digital spaces they do occupy” (UN Women, 2023). The UN therefore call on governments’, activists’ and the private sector’s concerted efforts today to ensure that “the digital world is safer, more inclusive and equitable for all”.
The call for inclusivity and equity is echoed in the Philippine Commission on Women’s theme for the 2023 Women’s Month—”WE (Women and Everyone or Women’s Empowerment) for gender equality and inclusive society”. This is a new 6-year recurring theme, tacitly reminding us of the current 6-year administration, while embodying the hopes of gender advocates and activists that we are building on the gains and learning from the lessons of the previous recurring theme, “WE make CHANGE work for women”. The repetition of a recurring Women’s Month theme for the Philippines is interesting at best. Even with a sweeping reference to gender equality and inclusivity, one wonders how adaptable it will be for specific women’s or gender issues that will crop up within the 6-year period. After all, practically all other institutions engaged in International Women’s Day have annual themes that are attuned to the gender issue of the day. On the other hand, a recurring theme also suggests the practical consideration that it takes more than a year to really achieve the aim of the theme, more so if it is as challenging as gender equality and inclusivity. On that note, the International Women’s Day website (https://www.internationalwomensday.com) settled on the theme “Embrace Equity” this 2023.
The focus on equity complements and even levels up both the UN and Philippine themes because the journey to achieving inclusivity (and eventual equality) in all and in specific sectors like innovation and technology, requires equitable action. The premise for this requirement is the fact that people hail from different contexts or realities. While “equality means each individual or group of people is given the same resources or opportunities, equity recognizes that each person has different circumstances, and allocates the exact resources and opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome.” (IWD, 2023) The argument even extends to the realization that “equal opportunities are no longer enough and can in fact be exclusionary rather than inclusive” (IWD, 2023). It’s like giving laptops equally to all schoolchildren of a local government unit yet forgetting that a good number of them live in areas with limited or no electricity, effectively rendering those laptops useless.
Thinking about, working towards and valuing equity in our desire to heighten people’s consciousness towards the diversity imbedded in women’s plight and fight for gender equality in this age of artificial intelligence is the least we can do this women’s day, women’s month and in the next 6 or more years.