Building on our commitment to human-centered connectivity at the 2021 UN Generation Equality Forum

UN Paris meeting image

This week, Microsoft is proud to be participating in the Paris session of the 2021 UN Generation Equality Forum (GEF), a global gathering for gender equality convened by UN Women.

At GEF, we will use our voice to advocate for gender equality by sharing our commitment with partners to improve the lives of women and girls around the world by deploying connectivity solutions and better access to opportunities and learning platforms. We will also work to advance the use of data science to tackle gender inequality.

Human-centered connectivity and the digital divide

The Paris forum represents an important next step for the UN Affairs team.  In April, we participated in the UN’s first-ever High-Level Thematic Debate on Connectivity and Digital Cooperation where we announced our commitment to a human-centered approach to bridging the digital divide.

Even for those who have an affordable broadband connection, a lack of digital literacy and other socioeconomic issues persist as barriers to entry. This issue is especially pronounced for women and girls, with a relative gap of 17% between male and female internet users worldwide. These disparities worsened during the pandemic, and, without intervention, they could become permanent for an entire generation.

At Microsoft, we believe a human-centered approach can help tackle this digital divide by:

  • Focusing on improving and increasing human adoption of technology
  • Developing strategies that grow digital literacy and skills
  • Leveraging technology to improve basic human rights like education and health care

Microsoft and the UN Generation Equality Forum

The GEF presents an invaluable opportunity for Microsoft to bring a more deliberate gender equality lens to its existing work on human-centered connectivity.

As Microsoft’s representative to the UN community, our team focuses on promoting cooperation among stakeholders to advance progress towards a more accessible and equitable digital environment. This is a unique position, representing interests at the intersection of data science, tech and gender. We are excited to embrace this role in connection with the GEF.

To that end, we signed on to serve as one of the leaders of the GEF’s Technology and Innovation Action Coalition, which focuses on gender equity in the access, use and design of technology and innovation. Embracing our unique position, we have sought opportunities to work with our growing network of UN stakeholders and build on existing efforts to bridge the digital divide by addressing these issues in the specific context of gender equality.

Our commitments moving forward

Microsoft has already undertaken several commitments related to bridging the digital divide, including the Airband Initiative that focuses on bringing broadband to unconnected communities around the world, and a global skills initiative that has provided digital skills education to more than 42 million people. As part of our participation in the GEF, we are excited to highlight three commitments that will serve as a starting point for additional actions to address gender equality and the digital divide in the years ahead.

First, Microsoft has embarked on an exciting collaboration with Unilever to address the digital accessibility gap between men and women in order to support a new generation of female entrepreneurs. Emerging digital technologies are increasingly providing ways to help people prosper through better access to training, financial services and peer-to-peer networks. But in order to take advantage of those opportunities, energy and internet access are essential. To help improve the lives and livelihoods of female entrepreneurs, we are launching an initiative to deploy connectivity solutions in order to increase the number of women using digital technologies and the internet. By leveraging Microsoft’s technological capabilities and Unilever’s in-market presence, our goal is to increase digital access in a way that connects female entrepreneurs with the resources they need to thrive in the modern economy.

Second, Microsoft is one of several organizations joining UNICEF in a robust set of actions aimed at providing digital skills development opportunities for girls and young women. This initiative is ongoing and includes several different components. One such component is the Learning Passport platform. Originally developed to help displaced young people continue their education, Microsoft and UNICEF expanded Learning Passport in light of Covid-19 to facilitate learning at home and ensure continuity of formal education during the pandemic. Seven countries are now deploying girl-centered content through the Learning Passport platform due to the acute impact that school closures has had on girls.

Finally, in conjunction with the Paris session of the 2021 GEF, we are announcing a new collective commitment, spearheaded by Microsoft, aimed at addressing disparities in the quality, availability and use of gender-related data. While data plays an increasingly important role in our lives, access to quality data on gender has lagged behind. This includes data that can be disaggregated by gender, data that utilizes gender as a primary marker and data that reflects different lived experiences related to gender. Incorporating standards articulated by Data2X among others working in this field, Microsoft is already turning commitments into action, by providing gender-disaggregated data on digital risks faced by individuals online, while also advocating for increased collective action on gender data generally. We hope this commitment will spur others to propose their own unique commitments for addressing the gender data gap. By adding to the knowledge base on the unique needs of women, men, girls and boys in the digital environment, Microsoft will join other partner institutions in the hope that they will leverage their own strengths and capabilities to move the needle on gender data going forward.

To begin this process, Microsoft is launching a project to build on the work of others in use case development by performing a gender-disaggregated analysis of digital civility data that has been collected for the past six years. We plan to share our findings, learnings and the underlying data with partners and the public in order to provide more insight into how to collect, analyze and build capacity to advance better gender data policies and solutions. We will also work with partner institutions to identify valuable opportunities for appropriate data-sharing or other collaborative efforts that will improve these gender data goals.

Looking ahead

Taken as a whole, these commitments represent an exciting next step in our continuing efforts to bridge the digital divide and create more positive outcomes for women and girls around the world. Gender equality is a key component of this issue, and we are eager to grow our work in this area, as well as improve equality in digital access and skills more generally. We are committed to embracing our unique role, and we look forward to working with partners and stakeholders from all sectors to improve gender equality in tech and beyond.

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