It needs different and holistic approaches to address gender inequality, says the EESC
The digital gender gap is a consequence of discrimination against women, which already starts in early childhood, the EESC points out. In its exploratory opinion on the digital gender gap, drafted at the European Parliament's request, the EESC suggests a multi-level approach and calls for holistic policies addressing different sources of inequality.
The digital gender divide is not merely a technological issue: it is an economic, social and cultural one. In order to close the gap, measures must therefore address different fields: the education system from childhood to adulthood, the labour market, work-life balance, public services and the digital divide in general.
"The education system is the main policy area to be addressed. We need to tackle cultural and also linguistic stereotypes, and it is particularly to the latter area that we can all contribute", says Giulia Barbucci, rapporteur for the opinion. "Girls (and boys) must be provided with different role models. In the 21st century it is high time that we address gender stereotypes and tackle them at their deepest social and cultural roots."
It is essential to ensure digital literacy and education for all. One prerequisite for this is that teachers and trainers be familiar with the use of information and communication technologies.
Motivation is key
Girls' and women's interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) must be raised – for instance by presenting female digital role models and successful female entrepreneurs, and also by showcasing the possibilities and opportunities for a successful professional future with extended STEM knowledge. This is even more necessary with regard to the growing importance of ICT-related education and cross-cutting, entrepreneurial, digital and soft skills, such as empathy, creativity and complex problem solving, which are skills mainly attributed to women.
Lifelong learning is essential for preventing exclusion from the labour market, and this concerns women in particular. The role of social partners is crucial here.
"Social partners generally need to play a key role in order to guarantee fair working conditions and access to social protection. This is also necessary with regard to the 'gig' economy", states Ms Barbucci.
Progress towards gender equality needs to be accelerated
The Gender Equality Index, which measures inequality in the domains of work, time, money, knowledge, power, violence and health, clearly shows that women are discriminated against in the labour market and society in general. Furthermore, progress in this field is slow: the index only increased by 4.2 between 2005 and 2017, from 62 to 66.2 points.
In its opinion, the EESC points to the digitalisation of the public sector, which represents a great opportunity for training and employing more women in that sector. Furthermore, it encourages the Commission to strengthen the "Women in Digital" Task Force and the "Digital4Her" initiative.
EU countries should be encouraged to set national targets and indicators to monitor the situation. Country-specific recommendations in this field could be addressed to Member States in the European Semester process.
Since this topic is fundamental for the future development of Europe, the EESC is counting on the European Parliament to support its recommendations in the Parliament's next term of office.