December 8, 2023

Every girl has a right to be connected and play a part in shaping a more equal, green, and tech-driven future and there is a need to demand for the creation of more technologies that are friendly to women.

The Cordillera Regional Gender and Development Council (RGAD) has launched the region’s observance of March as the International Women’s Day and Month as part of the global effort to inform and engage women and everyone to push for gender sensitive and responsive government programs and services that empower women to contribute to nation-building.

In line with the year’s international theme “DigitALL: Innovation and Technology for Gender Equality” and “WE (Women and Everyone) for Gender and Equality and Inclusive Society” of the Philippine Commission on Women, Social Welfare and Development Regional Director and RGAD Chair Leo Quintilla said the celebration aims to inform and engage women and everyone to push for gender-sensitive and responsive government programs and services that empower them and to provide a platform to share good practices to further strengthen the Magna Carta for Women towards its milestone 15th year in 2024.

It also aims to call for their empowerment towards maximizing their benefit from innovation and technology by bridging the gap in information and communication technology (ICT) and connectivity, their inclusion and other marginalized groups in technology for more creative solutions and greater opportunities for gender equality and meeting women’s needs.

“We have to demand, we have to create more technologies that are friendly to women. If we go to farming communities, for example, most technologies were designed for men. It’s time to develop technologies that will be more gender-friendly,” Quintilla said during the event’s launch, March 6.

He added this is also a celebration of women and girls who are championing the advancement of transformative technology in digital education and highlights the importance of protecting the rights of women and girls in digital space and addressing online and ICT-facilitated gender-based violence.

Dr. Ferdinand Gonzales, RGADC co-chair and Regional Development Council-CAR private sector representative, noted ICTs had been invaluable during the Covid-19 pandemic which helped people to stay connected and keep vital services and businesses going.

But he said there is still a “striking digital divide” between the educated middle class in the cities and the rural-based populations in the current ICT landscape in the Philippines and an observed gender disparity when it comes to access to ICT for productive use, as traditional Filipino families, especially in the rural areas, remain “very patriarchal” and consider ICT and other science and technology, engineering and mathematics fields in general as a form of productive endeavor as more appropriate fields for male members of the family.

As a result, ICT is likely to become more accessible through education to the Filipino males, he said.

“In this era of remote learning, when girls lack access to affordable Internet and to a computer or tablet, it means there is (someone) being left behind,” he said.

The National Telecommunications Union of the United Nations reported in 2019 the digital gender gap is growing fast in developing countries and Internet usage keeps growing but this is hindered by lack of ICT skills and expensive Internet use and broadband.

“For every girl, the goal must be meaningful connectivity. Broadband that is reliable, fast and regularly available, along with access to digital technologies and universal digital literacy. We will also aim to see to better response to women and girls’ most pressing needs and ensure we do not reinforce gender stereotypes that prevent many girls from pursuing studies in ICT fields,” Gonzales said, pointing out that the jobs of the future will be driven by technology and innovation, and women must be at the forefront of this transformation.

He also quoted the UN which said in some parts of the world, the gender gap is growing, reinforcing gender inequalities by denying women and girls opportunities, access to education, find better pay-jobs, and start new businesses.

“Making these technologies available to all is an essential part of building back stronger communities and economies and addressing many of the world’s most pressing challenges,” he said.

He added ICT matters for gender equality for opportunity, since the Internet is a great enabler, creating unprecedented opportunities for female entrepreneurs to enter global markets and boost small businesses’ growth by establishing international level playing field that enables all businesses regardless of size, location, and sector to compete on an equal footing in global markets.

It also provides women capacity in terms of access to basic needs such as healthcare and education; as well as understanding by improving efficiency, enhancing coordination, and improving the quality of information gathered and shared for development planning.

“Today and everyday we recognize digital power must be in the hands of everyone, especially among the women and girls. We have a unique window and momentum now, to secure bold commitments that will ensure girls are connected and empowered to create a brighter future the world needs. Let’s work and celebrate in creating a space where there is access, equity, and participation that promotes gender among women, men, boys and girls in every society,” Gonzales said.

RDC chairman and Apayao Gov. Elias Bulut Jr. added gender equality is not just a women’s issue but also a human rights issue that affects everyone.

He said there is a need to acknowledge there are still significant challenges to achieving gender equality and inclusivity as women and girls continue to face discrimination, harassment, and violence both in the workplace and in their personal lives.

“These are serious issues that we must address head-on through a combination of policies, programs, and cultural change. We must also recognize the progress that we made, especially in the Cordillera, where women are breaking down barriers in fields that were once male-dominated and are making significant contributions to our economy. But the road ahead is long and winding, so we must not waver and continue to advocate for policies and programs that promote gender equality and inclusivity and ensure they are effectively implemented,” Bulut said. – Hanna C. Lacsamana