This past Saturday, the United Nations’ premier global body fighting for gender equality called for widespread action to close the gap between men and women in today’s technology-driven world and urged zero tolerance for gender-based violence and harassment online.


The Commission on the Status of Women, in a document approved by consensus at the end of a two-week meeting that included all-night negotiations, voiced serious concern over the correlation between offline and online violence, harassment, and discrimination against women and girls, and condemned the rise of these phenomena.

To close the digital gender gap, it urged more funding from governments and businesses. There was also a call for new policies and programs to ensure that women and girls are equally represented in the STEM fields of the future.
UN Women’s executive director Sima Bahous hailed the document as “game-changing” for its promotion of a blueprint for a more equal and connected world for women and girls. She then emphasized the need for the blueprint to be made “into reality for all women and girls,” placing the onus on governments, the private sector, civil society, and young people.

Secretary-General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres stated at the beginning of the commission’s two week meeting that its focus was very timely because women and girls are being left behind as technology races ahead.

In developing countries, women and girls make up the vast majority of those who do not have access to the Internet, according to Guterres, and only 19 percent of women in the world’s least developed countries are online. Men outnumber women in the tech industry by a factor of two to one, and only one-third of students worldwide are girls and women majoring in STEM fields.

In his opening remarks, Bahous called “the digital divide the new face of gender inequality,” noting that there were 259 million more men than women online in 2017. She also referred to a survey of female journalists from 125 different countries, which found that 75% had experienced online harassment while on the job, and 35% had resorted to self-censorship as a result.

The “agreed conclusions” document was adopted Saturday by the 45-member commission, and it emphasizes the importance of providing women and girls with access to high-quality STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics), ICT, and digital literacy education in order to help them succeed in today’s fast-paced global economy.
UN diplomats reported that during the document’s protracted negotiations, language on women’s rights was challenged by Russia, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Holy See, and language on human rights was challenged by the same countries plus Cuba and China. The document contains 93 paragraphs. Since negotiations were confidential, they spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the heated debates that occurred over the language used to describe the use of technology to facilitate acts of violence against women.

The final document affirms the Beijing platform of 1995, which was adopted by 189 countries and was the first UN document to state that women have the right to control and decide “on matters relating to their sexuality, including sexual and reproductive health, free of discrimination, coercion, and violence.”

Diplomats said that the final obstacle to agreement was Pakistan’s insistence on including language about “foreign occupation” in the document, despite strong opposition from Israel. However, prior to the document’s adoption, a representative from Pakistan expressed disappointment that the document did not address the needs and priorities of women from developing countries experiencing humanitarian crises such as foreign occupation.