Women are disproportionately affected by the cost of living crisis, as they were by the pandemic.  So expressed Professor Helen Pankhurst this morning in radio interviews to mark International Women’s Day 2023.

IWD is often a chance to celebrate the fantastic work of women across every section of society.  But behind the celebration, there lie real issues being faced by women, which one day of the year cannot fix.  IWD is a great chance to celebrate, but it should also be a chance to reflect. 

The UN declared their official theme for IWD 2023 as “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality”.  Their announcement post states that “Advancements in digital technology offer immense opportunities to address development and humanitarian challenges, and to achieve the 2030 Agenda’s Sustainable Development Goals.”

And it does – six of the SDGs directly link to the impact of digital poverty, whether that’s 5b – the use of tech to empower women, to Goal 1 itself, the elimination of poverty.  But even in the UK, digital poverty remains a massive issue, with 14m people seeing very low levels of digital engagement, and 10m lacking the skills to turn on and use a computer.  This is huge for a nation that wants plans to be a Science and Technology “superpower” by 2030, according to a strategy launched this week by Rishi Sunak and Michelle Donelan, Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology.

Digital poverty continues to disproportionately impact women, as the care givers to their families.  They are more likely to be in low income roles, and in decisions of data or dinner, the provision of food for their children has to come first.  But this immediate and urgent need comes at the expense of being able to create a future and engage with essential services, with being able to provide laptops to complete homework, with being able to access the healthcare that they need, and being able to find new opportunities for work and training – all tasks we now have to complete online.

So yes, this IWD, let’s reflect on the incredible work that women do – whether that’s in business or raising families.  Let’s develop the technology that can address development goals at home and abroad as we celebrate the role of digital in tackling gender equality, and indeed levelling up the UK.  But let’s not leave those women behind who will never see this post on social media, who will never comment, and for whom it will never resonate – because they lack the device, data and skills to be able to get online to read it.

Author: Elizabeth Anderson, Chief Operating Officer at the Digital Poverty Alliance