Using digital innovations to advance women’s rights

A visitor interacts with a robot at the 6th World Intelligence Congress held in Tianjin on June 24, 2022. [Photo/Xinhua]

Innovation and technology have the potential to empower women and girls and help them realize their sexual and reproductive health and rights. Cell phones and the internet are part of everyday life for many people in Asia Pacific, and women and girls are increasingly using digital platforms to share and access information on sexual and reproductive health, including menstrual health, family planning and comprehensive sex education. Civil society organizations in the region are also actively promoting their campaigns online, challenging traditional norms around gender and sexuality and using the power of social media to reach ever further.

The importance of digital innovation and technology is becoming more relevant in the age of complex global megacrises such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the climate crisis, which have exacerbated existing inequalities. Disasters such as typhoons, floods and droughts are increasing in frequency and intensity in many parts of the Asia-Pacific region, with devastating effects on sexual and reproductive health. Such crises disrupt access to essential and life-saving health services, including maternal health care, and increase vulnerability to gender-based violence when women and girls are displaced.

COVID-19 has also impacted essential health services, including sexual and reproductive health services, and has led to a significant increase in gender-based violence and vulnerability to harmful practices. It is estimated that up to 1.4 million unwanted pregnancies occurred in the first 12 months of the pandemic due to disruptions in the supply of contraceptives and services. But the global crisis has also taught us how to overcome restrictions on distance and movement, including through telemedicine, easier access to doctor’s prescriptions and the creation of digital platforms to combat violence against women and girls.

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So how do we accelerate progress for women and girls, provide quality sexual and reproductive health services, end preventable maternal mortality, address harmful gender norms and end gender-based violence, and achieve universal gender equality through adoption and expansion? the use of technology and digital innovations?

UNFPA is increasingly investing in innovative methods and digital initiatives such as virtual reality experiences, mobile apps and telephony-based edutainment channels across Asia Pacific.

During my recent visit to India, I experienced firsthand UNFPA’s virtual reality simulation training module for midwives. This initiative, once implemented, has the potential to educate midwives on how to manage labor and complications. I am confident that this experiential learning will strengthen their clinical skills and enable them to save maternal and newborn lives.

Adolescents in China are increasingly accessing sex education via digital platforms. Working with partners from civil society and the private sector, UNFPA has equipped over 10,000 rural youth with information and knowledge about their health and well-being through interactive, live-streamed courses. In Myanmar, UNFPA worked with an education technology company, 360ed, to develop the Baykin 2.0 app, which uses augmented reality to increase access to accurate information on sexual and reproductive health and rights, and gender-based violence for youth and youth.

Of course, women and girls must be at the center of the design and development of creative and innovative solutions that bring us closer to an equal future for all. However, the single major challenge in advancing gender equality through digital innovation and technology is ensuring that all women and girls, including in rural areas and marginalized communities, have access to and are equipped with the necessary literacy, skills and resources are. According to the GSMA’s Mobile Gender Gap Report, women in low- and middle-income countries are 16 percent less likely than men to use mobile internet, and the gender gap in cell phone ownership is 19 percent in South Asia.

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Supporting women and girls affected by the digital divide must be a priority for governments and partners as countries better rebuild in a post-pandemic world. Fostering women’s digital literacy and science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education and careers, and leveraging funding for inclusive digital development can significantly support women’s economic and social empowerment.

Only when women and girls are at the forefront of accessing, using and applying technology can we bring about truly gender-transforming technological solutions.

Let’s all work together to bridge the digital gender gap and harness the power of technology and digital innovation to advance the rights of women and girls, including their reproductive rights.

The author is UNFPA Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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