Power On for Digital Inclusion: VP Sara, gov’t agencies’ efforts and call toward closing gender gaps in ICT

The 2023 National Women’s Month Celebration highlights the need to bridge the digital divide toward the benefits and welfare of women and girls, powering on digital inclusion that can propel the country toward the goal of economic transformation and holistic development.

Information and Communications Technology (ICT) permeates all aspects of life being a tool for work, education, interaction, and influence. Thus, it becomes important to delve into the gender dimensions in this industry. While the National ICT Household Survey 2019 shows that women are slightly at an advantage in several aspects of ICT use, like in the use of cellular and awareness that they can conduct business transactions online, the digital gender divide can be observed in the access in disadvantaged groups, ICT skills, labor participation, and other aspects.1

With this, Vice President of the Philippines and Education Secretary Sara Z. Duterte underscored the importance of an inclusive digital environment and education for women and girls, at the International Women’s Day event entitled Breaking the Code: Equality for All through Technology and Innovation held on March 8, 2023, at Samsung Hall, SM Aura Premier, Taguig City.

Vice President Sara Z. Duterte delivering her keynote address 
at the International Women’s Day Celebration

“Today, it is important for us to advocate for an inclusive digital education that will provide opportunities for women and girls to overcome any inequality affecting their development and involvement in the community,” VP Duterte said.

She shared that they have started implementing programs, such as the Innovations for Women Enterprises or iWomen Project which provides technical assistance to women micro-entrepreneurs as well as the Women-Helping-Women: Innovating Social Enterprises (WHWise) Program, which assists women-led social enterprises for growth, scalability, and subsequent venture capital funding.

From left to right: SM Supermalls President Mr. Steven Tan, PCW Executive Director Atty. Kristine Rosary E. Yuzon-Chaves, Vice President of the Philippines and Education Secretary Hon. Sara Z. Duterte, UN Resident Coordinator Mr. Gustavo González, UN Women Philippines Country Programme Coordinator Ms. Ma. Rosalyn Mesina at the IWD event.

Echoing this, PCW Executive Director Atty. Kristine Rosary E. Yuzon-Chaves called development partners and agencies to take concrete steps to crack the code for women in ICT.

“In the realm of information and communications technology (ICT), code refers to a collection of instructions that a computer can interpret and carry out. It is utilized to generate digital products, such as software applications and websites. In relation to our advocacy, the code can be compared to the systems, programs, and initiatives that will enable us to advance the representation and welfare of women in ICT. Through the discussions today, we aim to decipher the meaning behind the code, unravel the digital gender gap, address the issue of women’s underrepresentation in this industry, and identify ways to leverage ICT to promote the well-being of women and girls,” ED Yuzon-Chaves enthused.

United Nations Philippines Resident Coordinator Gustavo Gonzalez emphasized the gendered impact of the lack of access to ICT resources to women.

“The digital gender divide prevents girls from getting access to their daily lessons, to a young woman to complete her education, to a rural woman to own her own bank account, to feed her family, or get an employment,” UNRC Gonzalez said.

Indeed, VP Duterte called for initiatives to narrow the gender gap to digital accessibility so as to enable women and girls to take and create more digital opportunities for socio-economic growth and empowerment.

However, she also urged everyone to strengthen “protection mechanisms for Filipinas, including girls, from all kinds of violence committed against them at home, in their workplaces, and in online communities.” Toward this end, VP Duterte shared that they have “strengthened our Child Protection mechanism and launched the Learner Telesafe Contact Center national hotline where our learners can report cases of abuse including online child sexual exploitation.”

As VP Sara remarked, the pursuit of gender equality is not solely a women’s issue.

“Partners and stakeholders play an important role in making equality a lived reality for everyone through policies, mechanisms, and programs that promotes, protects, and upholds women’s human rights as we work hand-in-hand with communities, decision and policymakers, and implementers,” highlighted by Ms. Lenlen Mesina, UN Women Country Programme Coordinator.

“Gaya po ninyo, naniniwala rin ako na kapag ang mga kababaihan sa isang komunidad ay nabigyan ng pagkakataong maging produktibo, kapag sila ay nabigyan ng edukasyon at nagkaroon ng kapangyarihan ng kaalaman, at kapag sila ay nahasa na mamuno, kaya po nilang baguhin ang mukha ng kanilang komunidad,” VP Sara added.

Breaking the Code for #DigitALL

Sitting in the panel at the IWD event, Representative Geraldine Roman, National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Undersecretary Rosemarie Edillon, and Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) Assistant Secretary Maria Teresa Camba discussed the core points where women can thrive in ICT as well as the ways the government must do to support them.

Representative Geraldine Roman, NEDA Undersecretary Rosemarie Edillon, and DICT Assistant Secretary Maria Teresa Camba talk about Equal-IT: ICT for Women’s Empowerment

“In the current PDP, digital transformation takes center stage. We are talking about the digital economy, which involves infrastructure, skills, and platforms. We also want more content creators. Women are very important in the industry of digital economy not only because they are half of the population, but really because women, we are used to multi-tasking, and this digital economy is a way of doing that and we think women can find very innovative ways of doing many other innovations using digital technologies,” said Usec. Edillon.

Looking into the root causes of the problem, the DICT conducted consultations on the factors hampering women’s access to ICT.

“The barriers to women’s participation in ICT is really the lack of training, lack of digital skills, and lack of access to technology and the internet. The Department is really working toward addressing these barriers and we are aggressively deploying internet connectivity in geographically isolated and disadvantaged areas, in remote communities. ASec. Camba said.

Indeed, studies show that different factors, like unpaid care work, hamper women in developing countries to upskill and reskill in technology. They also have less mobility due to violence, lack of digital infrastructure, and the inadequacy of laws and policies to give them more incentives or benefits to pursue ICT-related work.

Hence, to address the skills gap, the DICT is providing trainings not only for basic literacy skills but also higher ICT courses, established over 4,000 digital transformation centers where everyone can learn, and they are bringing WiFi connectivity in public places, in libraries, in schools, in plazas, hospitals, and airports, and other public places where both women and men can access, in line with the law providing for Free Internet Access Program in Public Places Law.

As for NEDA, Usec. Edillon mentioned the efforts to Increase the digital infrastructure, mainstream regulations of digital cell sites, and increase the investments in telecommunications, need to roll this out nationwide. Representative Roman seconded and underscored the need to legislate policies that can welcome more investors that can help improve ICT access in the country.

In a separate forum, the DigitALL Forum Series by the Philippine Commission on Women held on March 15, 2022, and streamed live on social media platforms, different government agencies also expounded on the various steps undertaken to maximize ICT for women and girls.

Ms. Jacqueline J. Ali of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), mainly discussed the TESDA Online Program. An eLearning platform for technical vocational education and training (TVET), which is free and offers self-paced massive open online courses, as well as trainer-facilitated blended learning. This helps provide opportunities for skilling, upskilling, and re-skilling, livelihood and entrepreneurship, general productivity, lifelong learning, global competitiveness, and social equity.

For the Department of Labor and Employment, with the digital transformation of the economy progressing, there is a need to support the gig economy and provide digital careers. In fact, one of the key employment growth sectors is IT-BPM. and one of the in-demand occupations is IT and business process outsourcing. Ms. Evangeline G. Aviñante, Labor and Employment Officer III of the Bureau of Local Employment, shared the various programs in line with this, including DOLE’s efforts to establish a career development support program (CDSP) which provides relevant and timely knowledge on the trends in the labor market, develop career guides and information materials on the labor market, and further strengthen the Public Employment Service Office as well as the Government Internship Program.

Technology is also seen as one of the propellers of growth and income for rural women. To this goal, the Department of Agriculture initiated various projects that can enable rural women to leverage technology in agriculture. For one, there is the Registry System for Basic Sectors in Agriculture, an electronic compilation of basic information of farmers, farm laborers, and fisherfolk, which can help improve sex-disaggregated data in this sector that can in turn, better the allocation and implementation of services and programs. As shared by Ms. Marites Bernardo, Chief Administrative Officer and GFPS Secretariat of DA, the Department also works on elevating rural women’s access to training, resources, and market, access to women-friendly farm machineries, access to drying facilities, like the multi-commodity solar tunnel dryer. PhilMech also produced the manual coffee pulper which is a portable and low-cost technology which helps farmers attain high-quality coffee products. DA also launched the first online trade fair in 2021 and continues to promote marketing assistance and agripreneurship for women in this sector.

Another government agency aggressively working on women’s participation in ICT is the Department of Trade and Industry. Among its major programs which assist women entrepreneurs to utilize ICT for business are the Connecting Women Entrepreneurs to the Digital Economy which transforms Filipino entrepreneurs into digital savvy and active e-commerce practitioners; Negosyo Center, a one-stop-shop access to information, support, training, and credit facilities; Kapatid Mentor Me, where women can get weekly coaching and mentoring on the different functional areas of entrepreneurship, SheTrades with e-modules and where women can learn how to increase the capacity and competitiveness of their products for export; and CTRL + Biz Reboot Now! which features webinars on e-commerce to help MSMEs transform their businesses digitally.

Ms. Nharleen Santos-Millar, Chief of the Technical Services and Regional Coordination Division of PCW, elaborated on the targets related to STI and ICT under the Updated Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Plan 2019-2025, saying “Let us eliminate barriers to women’s equal access to ICT, increase the affordability and use of technology and boost digital literacy for women, develop and enhance communications infrastructure in geographically isolated and rural areas, develop programs that will leverage the power of ICTs to address persistent inequality and ICT issues such as women’s lack of access to banks, financial products, market information, among others.”

Share your commitment to a gender-equal and inclusive ICT! Visit the #WEcanbeEquALL webpage.

1 Albert, Jose Ramon G. et al. (2021) : Expanded data analysis and policy research for National ICT Household Survey 2019, PIDS Discussion Paper Series, No. 2021-20, Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS), Quezon City.