(9 April 2013) Although information and communications technologies (ICTs) offer many opportunities for women's empowerment and gender equality, Latin American and Caribbean women do not yet enjoy the same conditions as men in the information and knowledge society, according to Alicia Bárcena, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).
Ms. Bárcena was the main speaker at the panel discussion on "Women and social inclusion" that was part of the Government Leaders Forum - Latin America and The Caribbean, which is being organized in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on 9 and 10 April by Microsoft. Other participants included the Minister of Women's Affairs of Brazil, Eleonora Menicucci, the Mexican Ambassador in Brazil, Beatriz Paredes, and the Uruguayan Senator, Lucía Topolansky.
The President of Costa Rica, Laura Chinchilla, also took part in the panel discussion via videoconference.
The 2013 Forum will focus on the theme "Driving Impact Today for a Brighter Future". Participants at the Forum, who will include government authorities from many of the region's countries and international experts, will explore how information technologies can be leveraged to aggressively drive progress in the various focus areas, as well as discuss the public policy implications of the evolving technology environment of today.
In her presentation, the ECLAC Executive Secretary spoke of equal rights that go beyond gender inclusion, and emphasized the need for growth in the interests of equality, and for equality in the interests of growth. She stated "We must work on ensuring the three dimensions of autonomy for women: physical, political and economic, as well as improving our capacity for measurement so as to break the statistical silence that reigns over gender issues. This is the only way to raise their profile, achieve greater recognition and make progress in redistribution aimed at closing the gaps affecting women".
Ms. Bárcena stressed that total work should be taken into account, including women's unpaid work, and that public policies should be designed to strengthen universal access to care systems.
She highlighted the region's progress and challenges pending in terms of gender equality, inclusion and autonomy for women, and declared the need to close the gaps in Internet use and increase women's capacity in this area.
Ms. Bárcena affirmed "Countries with varying levels of development have gender gaps in digital inclusion, and this is attributable to persistent cultural stereotypes and gender relations". She added that "ICTs require complementary assets. The gaps and segmentation shown in the data cannot be tackled unless we use specific policies, namely affirmative action, fiscal stimulus and innovative training".
According to information from ECLAC, although women's economic participation in urban areas has risen from 42% to 52% in the past 20 years, the proportion of women without their own income in Latin America is 30% - compared to just 12% of men (Gender Equality Observatory of Latin America and the Caribbean, 2010 data).
In addition, while Internet access figures show parity among men and women, the use of Internet remains unequal, with differences of up to eight percentage points between men and women in some countries.
Ms. Bárcena declared "From the gender equality point of view, a good ICT policy should tackle women's employment status, on the basis that this can generate a virtuous circle involving access to the labour market, use of ICT tools and economic autonomy".
The United Nations official said that women will only be able to participate fully in the information society if they gain access to professions related to the main disciplines and jobs that make up its foundation, in other words those including technology, engineering and mathematical careers.
Ms. Bárcena added that, in this context, education plays a key role. Although women in Latin America outperform men in terms of achieving Millennium Development Goals for education, there is ongoing labour discrimination in the form of highly educated women being employed to do similar jobs to men with fewer qualifications.
What is more, women who do enter technology sectors cannot easily embrace the innovation and knowledge developed in such sectors because of the preference shown to men. Besides this, there remain sexual stereotypes when it comes to hiring and assigning duties. Ms. Bárcena said "These aspects provide us with the template for the changes needed to achieve gender equality through ICTs".
In her speech, the ECLAC Executive Secretary gave special thanks to the efforts of Minister Menicucci, who is the current Chair of the Regional Conference on Women in Latin America and the Caribbean, and highlighted the careers of Ambassador Paredes and Senator Topolansky, "who have fought for political seats in Congress without quotas and based on merit in their countries ".
In October in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, ECLAC will hold the 12th session of the Regional Conference on Women in Latin America and the Caribbean, where official representatives from all of the Commission's Member States and associate members will discuss gender equality, women's empowerment and information and communications technologies.
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