Digital divide: who is to fill the gap?

A blog by Palwashay Arbab, Community World Service Asia

Technology is a double-edged sword. This is especially true if we look at gender equality for which, technology is promoted as an enabler. But as much as technology bridges the digital divide, increases access to communication and makes the world a global village, it also contributes to creating gaps and inequalities. As it amplifies the voices of some, it limits the participation of others. As much as it brings people together, it also drives them further apart. As much it gives liberty and freedom, it also creates loneliness and isolation.

Is it the new bitter-sweet symphony, I ask myself? Maybe.

As leading advocates of digital equality, I wonder if the organisers of the UN CSW67 considered the use of technology to ensure the effective inclusion and participation of delegates who face access constraints?  It is safe to assume that some of the key players in the fight for gender justice and closer to those suffering from abuse and lack of human rights cannot participate in the commission in New York.

But what is it proposed to ensure that their voices are heard in this pivotal platform where important decisions about them, their life, their rights and their future are made?

Undoubtedly there are various virtual spaces and side events that those interested can participate in. These are great learning spaces. But there needs to be a plan for ensuring the equal access as virtual delegates for those communities that would otherwise go unheard. Yes, most governments are there to represent their people and their issues, but one cannot deny the difference in perspectives that a government representative and a civil society activist or a community member has and like to echo at an important platform like this one.

The digital divide can be conquered and ensuring access and meaningful participation is a way to dominate it. We have a tremendous opportunity to ensure equal and full participation for everyone, in every corner of the world with the use of technology.

Many potential delegates like myself who require a visa to just reach New York, were denied access only because we could not reach the country physically. However, we could participate and contribute if given the chance to participate virtually – as equally as those present at the headquarters. I can still participate in the conversation by writing this blog post.

But then I wonder – what about countries like Afghanistan? My women colleagues have been barred from working. They still do, from home, trying their best to complete all the tasks hidden from view.

Their roles and responsibilities have been changed to ensure working from home is possible and project activities continue. But some things can only be done by women. For instance, only a woman communicator could get a story from an Afghan woman or girl. Only she could ask them about their needs or if the support is meeting their requirement?

Who is to fill that gap?

These are the challenges we need to overcome. And it is their voices we need to hear the most if we truly want to achieve gender justice. It is their story that needs to be told, and they need to be able to tell it.

We cannot let technology and the digital divide leave them behind.  We must do more, and we must do better. We must allow it to be an enabler and we must create resources and opportunities for those voices that risk to be otherwise silenced.