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Digitalisation and the advancement of technology have presented a vast array of innovative and dynamic opportunities for female economic empowerment, and chances for a gendered balance across financial markets, labour markets and entrepreneurship. Particularly in emerging and developing countries, digital technologies provide women with the opportunity to overcome many dominant cultural, traditional and mobility barriers.

Promising new initiatives

This year’s G20 Summit in Argentina witnessed gender mainstreaming strategies in all work streams of the forum’s agenda. World leaders pledged to reduce the gender gap in the global labour force by 25% by 2025, demonstrating a growing consensus calling for the empowerment of women.

The G20’s efforts mark a historic step forward for women’s rights and gender equality. They highlight the importance of gender perspectives as fundamental to achieving fair and sustainable development and stress the need for collaborative and concerted efforts to extend women’s role in decision-making into the economic and socio-political spheres of influence. Most importantly, the move presents an important and timely step forward, towards improved policies aimed at closing the digital gender gap.

A key focus of development has seen NGOs and international organisations extending micro finance and micro credit opportunities to women entrepreneurs. In India, for example, despite the efforts made by the government to provide support in education, food, social benefits and pension plans, many communities – but particularly women – continue to be excluded from financial autonomy and the ability to maintain a living.

A digital route to equality

With such measures, women can aspire to become entrepreneurs and start their own businesses. SMEs are, of course, fundamental drivers of job creation, economic independence and empowerment for women. But across the international realm, they are also serving to empower women through fostering digital literacy. Where increasing female labour force participation will help local communities to flourish, digital inclusion is also fundamental to boosting economic growth and prosperity.

According to the OECD, at the global level approximately 250 million more men than women are online.

In developing and emerging markets, restricted access predominantly limits under-served women in rural regions. In developed countries, there is systematic under-representation of women in the digital-based and financial industries, senior management and academic careers.

The digital revolution has also brought new opportunities for female empowerment where social barriers, deeply inherent gender biases and socio-cultural norms remain a hindrance to female economic empowerment,

Using digital to speak out against injustice

2018 has played a pivotal role, driving awareness of the structural challenges faced by women and girls through an array of media platforms, such as “hashtag activism”. Thanks to the power of the internet, campaigns centred around women’s rights and inclusion are being placed at the centre of public debate. Movements such as #ChangeTheRatio, #EqualPay and #MeToo have certainly helped to propel momentum.

Crossing geographical boundaries merely at the click of a button, the digital revolution is offering new and innovative tools for female economic empowerment. Greater access to information, in addition to connecting women and girls with likeminded people, allows for the reinforcement of similar ideas and activism. This digital revolution is giving women a universal voice on topics and views that were traditionally confined to the private sphere.

Women are inspiring more women to speak out against social injustices; from challenging stereotypes to endorsing education, these campaigns are a call to action, helping to empower communities. Despite the backlash it sometimes faces, social media’s role is endemic. Indeed, such efforts have been made by international organisations to specifically target women in rural communities.

Looking ahead

As we continue to work towards the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals – which include Goal 5 (Gender Equality), and targets Goal 4 (Quality Education) and Goal 17 (Partnerships for the Goals) which both hinge on gender equality – we will need greater data and transparency if we are to identify the conditions that will facilitate gender-inclusive growth. This is because gender equality is not only just and fair but is also an essential component of transformative socio-economic development and long-term economic prosperity.

Greater access to digital tools and technology can serve to support a new means of inclusive, global economic growth. Whilst in recent years huge strides have been taken, underpinning a global framework for realising female economic empowerment, persistent challenges concerning female inclusion and gender equality remain.

Now is the time to harness and use new digital opportunities and to take advantage of the digital revolution that is taking place, ensuring that it facilitates further progress.

As the digital movement spreads, women are feeling energised and female economic empowerment has become a universal goal. It is clear that digitalisation holds promise to narrow a deeply-entrenched, historical gap.

Shanu S. P. Hinduja  is Chair of Geneva-based Hinduja Bank (Switzerland) Ltd, Chair of the Hinduja Foundation US, and Co-Chair and Director of Hinduja Global Solutions Inc.