Secretary-General Rejects ‘Male Chauvinist’ Domination of Tech Sector, Calls for Overhaul of ‘Patriarchal Structures’
14 March 2023
Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks to the Women’s Civil Society Town Hall, in New York on 13 March:
We are meeting at a difficult and pivotal moment for gender equality around the world.
We had years and years of incremental progress, [but now] women’s and girls’ rights have stalled now and are going into reverse.
The trend is clear. In Afghanistan, women and girls have been erased from public life and are virtually imprisoned in their homes. From Myanmar to Sudan, autocratic regimes and violent extremist groups persecute and harass women for speaking out and going about their daily lives.
Parties to conflict perpetrate horrific crimes of gender-based violence. Police, even in some of the richest countries in the world, attack and abuse the women they are supposed to protect.
The COVID-19 pandemic is far from over for women who lost their jobs, and girls who lost their chance of education. The cost-of-living crisis is hitting women and girls first and worst.
Halfway to the Sustainable Development Goals deadline of 2030, the truth is that half of humanity is largely being left behind. In every region, women are worse off than men, earning less -- and doing up to 10 times more unpaid care work.
The food crisis has a disproportionate impact on women and girls, who are often last to eat and first to go hungry. And women’s and girls’ sexual and reproductive rights are under siege as many Governments undermine their autonomy over their bodies and their lives.
Many of the challenges we face today -- from conflicts to climate chaos to the cost-of-living crisis -- are the result of a male-dominated world with a male-dominated culture, taking the key decisions that guide our world.
And while men still largely make those decisions, women and girls often pay the price. Ninety percent of refugees from the war in Ukraine are women and their children. And women and children are 14 times more likely to die in disasters than men.
As women’s civil society organizations, you are on the front lines of these crises every day, and you know these facts better than anyone. Without your support and your engagement, the situation would be even worse, and I want to thank you for your very important work.
Against this backdrop, women and girls now face a new source of discrimination and bias: digital technology. Today’s digital technology often uses algorithms designed by a male-dominated technology industry, based on male-dominated data.
Rather than presenting facts and addressing bias, technology based on incomplete data and badly designed algorithms is digitizing and amplifying sexism -- with deadly consequences.
Medical decisions based on data essentially from men can damage women’s health. Safety features based on men’s bodies can put women’s lives at risk, namely in the car industry.
And policies based on men’s data will leave women and girls even farther behind.
Artificial Intelligence will be shaping the world of the future. Without women’s equal input, it will continue to be a man’s world.
The gender digital divide is fast becoming the new face of gender inequality. Rather than uplifting women and girls by providing access to education, health care and financial services, technology is often used to harm and control them through surveillance and trafficking.
Online spaces are not safe for women and girls. Gender-based violence online has increased exponentially. Organized campaigns target women politicians, journalists and activists -- a direct attack on women’s representation and on democracy itself.
So-called “influencers” denigrate women and feed misogyny and toxic forms of masculinity to millions of young men and boys. Groups that campaign against women’s rights find a warm welcome on digital platforms.
Centuries of patriarchy and damaging stereotypes prevent women innovators from getting the recognition they deserve. The skills of black American women, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson and Dorothy Vaughan, were integral to the success of the Apollo space programme. Thanks to the movie Hidden Figures, their stories and names are now well known.
But, while 12 men have walked on the moon, not a single woman has done so. Those same stereotypes push girls away from studying science, engineering and math, and strangle the careers of women scientists.
Women are credited less for their achievements, win far fewer prizes and receive less research funding than men, even when they have the same conditions. Just 2 per cent of venture capital investment goes to start-ups founded by women. This must change. The male chauvinist domination of new technology is undoing decades of progress on women’s rights.
Gender equality is a question of power. For more than 100 years, that power was gradually becoming more inclusive. Technology is now reversing that trend. It is concentrating power again more in the hands of men, to the detriment of all.
In the face of this patriarchal pushback, we must push forward -- not just for women and girls, but for all communities and societies. Without the insights and creativity of half the world, scientific progress will fulfil just half its potential. And a safe, humane online environment requires the contributions of all of humanity.
But let me be clear: This will not happen on its own. We must take decisive and deliberate action. Policymakers must create, and in some circumstances must reinforce to create, transformative change by promoting women and girls’ equal rights and opportunities to learn, by dismantling barriers and smashing glass ceilings.
I call on all leaders, as a matter of urgency, to take up the recommendations in the United Nations first-ever report on technology, innovation, education and gender equality.
They include promoting education and training in digital skills for women and girls; algorithms that align with human rights and gender equality; and investments in bridging the digital gender divide.
We must connect everyone, everywhere to the Internet by 2030. Leaving no one behind means leaving no one offline. But an Internet connection is just a first step. The equal representation and participation of women is at the heart of transforming political, social and economic models that today still largely exclude them.
We need to overhaul the patriarchal structures that perpetuate gender inequality and especially in the technology sector. The recent visit to Afghanistan by the Deputy Secretary-General and by the Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women) shows our deep commitment to women’s rights in the most challenging situations. It highlighted the necessity of supporting women when they need us most - in crisis.
To this end, I have committed to do everything in my power to raise $300 million over the next three years for women’s organizations and human rights defenders in crisis situations. It will not be easy, but we will do everything to make sure that we are able to fundraise properly in this regard.
And from now on, in United Nations-led or co-led peace processes, we will strive to increase women’s participation, and our aim -- we are very far from it -- is a target of 30 per cent, at least.
Around the world, United Nations country teams support efforts to prohibit gender discrimination, to set quotas for women’s representation and to establish equal rights and equal pay.
We are advocating everywhere for women’s and girls’ rights to education and opportunities, for protection of their sexual and reproductive rights and to advance their equal participation and leadership in all spheres.
At the global level, I have been calling for an SDG Stimulus that will enable all Governments, particularly those in the Global South, to be able to invest in gender equality in the context of all the Sustainable Development Goals.
The report on Our Common Agenda recommends transformative steps for gender equality, including measures to complement gross domestic product (GDP) so that women’s care work is given its true value in national accounts.
Our Common Agenda calls for a holistic view of peace that takes account of gender-based violence. It envisions a new social contract, founded on gender equality, human rights and human dignity for all.
A Global Digital Compact is also foreseen to help to close the digital gender divide. And we are also promoting a Code of Conduct for Information Integrity on digital platforms that will aim to reduce harm and increase accountability online while defending the right to freedom of expression.
Our Common Agenda is largely a feminist agenda, and it aims to make multilateral frameworks more representative and inclusive -- frameworks developed by women, with women, for women. Member States will address many of these issues at the SDG summit in September, and the Summit of the Future [in 2024]. Your voices are essential to these processes.
The United Nations is trying to lead by example. Our systemwide Strategy on Gender Parity has achieved and maintained parity in Resident Coordinators around the world and among the almost 200 senior leaders of the United Nations, and if current progress is maintained, we are on track to achieve overall parity in the global Secretariat by 2028.
But, we are not on track to reach parity at every level and in every location. There are specific challenges in peacekeeping and political missions in the field, and we must focus on these in the coming years.
Following the report on Our Common Agenda, I also commissioned an independent review of capacities across the United Nations to deliver on gender equality. We need to look exactly at what we are doing, with what capacity, and what the results are - and then have an independent report on that for us to be able to take decisions.
The report addresses the structures, funding and leadership of our efforts to deliver for women and girls around the world. This will form part of the discussions on reforms to the system as we move towards what we call a “UN 2.0” -- an Organization that is fit-for-purpose to deliver for all.
The work of the United Nations would not be possible without our strong partnership with women’s civil society, without you. I thank you for your contributions and I look forward to our continued close collaboration. Together, we must resist the pushback against women’s rights, we must push forward for women, girls and our world.
And as I said, I am here essentially to listen, and I look forward to hearing your views. If you have any questions, I will try to answer them, but my main objective is to listen, for me to be able to change the things I am not yet doing and that I should be doing in this regard.