Ladies and Gentlemen,
Our digital economy is paving the way for a new, more connected, and more prosperous world. Perhaps now more than ever, people across the globe are turning on lights, gaining access to clean water, finding new and exciting ways to learn, and joining the global marketplace for the first time. The power of technology is the power of change.
Women and girls especially stand to gain from the tech revolution. Because of the progress we’ve made in the accessibility to and affordability of information and communications technology, a young girl in a developing country can pick up a smartphone and use it to start a career as a programmer or, for that matter, to start her own business. But there are still challenges ahead of us.
According to the World Economic Forum, women account for only 26 percent of the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce in developed countries. The gender disparity in the tech workforce is even larger in low and middle income countries that could benefit most of all from additional workers in the ICT sector. According to a report by McKinsey, advancing women’s equality, including in tech, could add as much as $12 trillion to global GDP just in the next 6 years.
Women are particularly affected by the digital divide and its exclusionary impact. In global terms, the percentage of women with internet access is 12 percent lower than that of men. This gap exists all over the world, but it is particularly pronounced in developing countries.
Women’s economic participation promotes productivity, enterprise development at the micro, small, and medium-enterprise levels, as well as enhances business management and returns on investment.
In addition to boosting economic growth, investing in women produces a multiplier effect: women reinvest a large portion of their income in their families and communities. They also play key roles in creating peaceful and stable societies that are important factors for economic growth.
Unfortunately, these benefits have not been universally recognized and have therefore not translated into women’s full economic participation. Women still face obstacles when trying to establish new businesses or expand existing ones. Among the biggest hurdles are discriminatory laws, regulations and business conditions, as well as lack of access to property rights, finance, training, technology, markets, mentors, and networks.
Today, girls’ lack of access to basic education is compounded when it comes to the use of digital technology, leaving them far behind boys. And because the world is ever more digital, those who lack basic internet skills will find it increasingly more difficult to participate in the formal economy, to obtain a quality education, to access health care, information, and social support, and to have their voices heard.
To address these issues, the U.S. government recently launched the WomenConnect Challenge, a global call for solutions designed to close the gender digital divide.
This program will identify and accelerate comprehensive solutions that empower women and girls to access and use digital technology to drive positive health, education, and livelihood outcomes for themselves and their families. We will identify and test the promising pilot approaches, with technical assistance and financial support, and then scale proven solutions for maximum reach and result.
Research shows that gender equality is “smart economics.” The untapped potential of women remains a lost opportunity for economic growth and development [that] the world cannot afford.
I commend the organizers of the Digital Romania International Forum, Smart Everything Everywhere, all the Forum’s sponsors, and everyone here today, for your focus on gender equality and the leadership of women in the digital economy. It is exactly the right topic at exactly the right time.
Thank you for your patience and attention.