IGC Lunch and Learn - A once-in-a-generation opportunity: Integrating Gender into the Global Digital Compact

Although the internet, digital platforms, information and communications technology (ICT), artificial intelligence (AI) and New Emerging Technologies (NETs) offer unprecedented pathways to increase women’s participation across all spheres of life, there is no denying that existing social inequalities have permeated the technology arena. The digital gender divide, persistent gender stereotypes, the under-representation of women in tech and decision-making, significant gaps in digital literacy and a rise in technology-facilitated gender-based violence threaten to reproduce and exacerbate existing inequalities.

The Global Digital Compact (GDC) - an initiative proposed by the United Nations Secretary-General and expected to be adopted at the Summit of the Future in September 2024 - promises to be a once-in-a-generation-opportunity to ensure openness, security, and inclusivity in digital governance. By establishing an inclusive global framework, the Compact will outline a multi-stakeholder approach to address the challenges posed by digital technologies, including digital, data and innovation divides.

To shed light on the GDC and the importance of mainstreaming gender perspectives across all its dimensions, the IGC Secretariat organised its third Lunch and Learn event of 2024 on ‘A once-in-a-generation opportunity: Integrating Gender into the Global Digital Compact’, which took place on Thursday, 16 May.

The event featured Hélène Molinier, Senior Advisor on Digital Cooperation and Thematic Lead for the GEF Action Coalition on Innovation and Technology at UN Women, and Caitlin Kraft-Buchman, Co-Founder and CEO of Women at the Table and <A+> Alliance for Inclusive Algorithms. Maxime Stauffer, Co-Founder of the Simon Institute for Longterm Governance, moderated the discussion. 

Hélène Molinier presented the Position Paper prepared by UN Women, in collaboration with the Action Coalition on Technology and Innovation for Gender Equality, which promotes a dual track approach to (1) mainstream gender perspectives across all GDC themes and (2)  integrate  a stand-alone goal on gender equality, with a focus on three topics: Freedom from technology-facilitated gender-based violence and discrimination, equitable educational and economic opportunities, and equal voice, leadership and participation.

 Molinier emphasized the need to build bridges between the gender and digital communities to bring about systemic change and address the unequal distribution of power in society. Furthermore, she explained that although the Zero Draft of the GDC does mention gender equality and the principle of inclusion and diversity, it is lacking concrete commitments to implement these principles as well as inclusive language. She highlighted that the Position Paper can also be used as a toolbox to influence key moments in the coming years, including the WSIS+20, Beijing+30 and G20 summits.

Caitlin Kraft-Buchman highlighted that women have historically been excluded from design processes, barring them from accessing ways to advance their human dignity, create wealth and foster prosperity. She called for creating new systems which tap into the creativity and brilliance of women and girls in all their diversity and other marginalised groups. The GDC presents a unique opportunity to achieve this, and she identified several pathways forward.

  1. Focusing on gender-responsive public procurement: Research by UN Women and ITC found that up to 40% of countries’ GDP is spent on government procurement, with only  1% of government contracts going to women-led businesses.[1]

  2. Promoting algorithmic impact assessments: monitoring impact through the model’s entire lifecycle allows policymakers to better understand the data’s provenance and identify potential risks.

  3. The “Right to Know”: With algorithmic system making a growing number of decisions that impact our lives, Kraft-Buchman highlighted a push to expand the ‘right to know’ at the Human Rights Council to allow individuals to be continuously made aware of which aspects of their lives are affected by algorithmic decisions- from recruitment processes to loan applications- and given the opportunity to contest the outcomes.

Caitlin Kraft-Buchman also advocated for the creation of new unbiased data sets, including within UN institutions, and the need to make small projects, such as computer science courses, scalable to achieve systemic change.

Following the presentations, the audience engaged in thought-provoking discussions with the speakers. These conversations covered a range of issues, including the need to incentivise and regulate the private sector to advance gender equality, the importance of paying attention to women and girls in low-income countries who experience basic connectivity issues, and the urgent need for capacity-building within organisations and delegations.

This event was part of the IGC 'Lunch and Learn' series, which aims to foster interactions between the IGC community, experts, academics, and activists. It is made possible by a grant from the US Mission and serves as a platform for dialogue and knowledge exchange. The events are open to IGC focal points, Champions, and the broader public, including students.


[1] ITC-UN Women: Global Campaign on Gender-Responsive Public Procurement: https://intracen.org/news-and-events/campaigns/women-in-public-procurement