Digital technologies – a powerful tool for women’s empowerment

Speech by Parliamentary State Secretary Thomas Silberhorn at the W20 Summit 'Empowering Women in the Digital Age', 26 April in Berlin

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Ladies and gentlemen

Digital technologies are a powerful tool for the political, economic and social empowerment of women and girls: They can lift women and girls out of poverty. Two development economists recently published a study showing that mobile money not only lifted two per cent of Kenyan households out of poverty but that those households led by women also experienced the most profound effects.

Digital technologies open up new job opportunities: According to Deloitte, digital technologies could create more than 140 million new jobs in developing countries. Yet, so far, only 24 per cent of all jobs in the IT industry worldwide are held by women.

To ensure that developing countries can make use of the full potential of their digital workforce and to ensure that women benefit equally from the digital transformation, we need to actively support women’s participation in the digital world.

As just illustrated by the film: there are many women playing key roles in advancing ICTs. By becoming visible they send the message that working in ICTs is a career option for women, too.

Yet, at the same time, we are all painfully aware of the number of impediments girls and women still face in seeking to achieve success in this field. The reasons for their as yet unrealized potential and contributions in the digital economy are manifold. I would like to focus on two of them:

1. Lower access to digital technologies

According to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), there are 250 million fewer women than men who have access to the internet. Cultural and social barriers as well as stereotypes clearly play a role.

2. Lower levels of digital skills

According to the World Wide Web Foundation, women are 1.6 times more likely to report lack of skills as a barrier to internet use. In developing countries, lack of educational opportunities is one of the root causes of the problem: girls and women have significantly less access to secondary and tertiary education and thus fewer opportunities to acquire the skills they need.

On top of that, education systems do not always provide inclusive opportunities for girls to participate in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, mathematics). That is why we support campaigns aimed at challenging stereotypes related to women and girls in STEM fields.

These two factors explain why, although internet access is skyrocketing in developing countries, the digital gender gap has actually increased.

On the labor market, the digital transformation has two effects: (1) it creates new jobs, but (2) it also replaces others. Those who gain are those with digital skills such as handling social media platforms, working with video and design programs, or programming software. These skills are thus becoming increasingly important.

That is why we must make sure women are not left behind. And, as the digital economy is progressing rapidly, particularly in our partner countries, the time to act is now.

We would like to strengthen and intensify our efforts to support digital skills training for women and girls. To make progress on a global level, we need the joint efforts of all actors! This is why, under the German G20 presidency, we have launched the #eSkills4Girls initiative. We call for large-scale efforts to be made to make better use of women’s economic potential.

The following two activities illustrate our support for the initiative:

  • One is a study we conducted on women’s and girls’ own perceptions of the digital gender gap. Three key recommendations emerged from this study: First, women and girls need more and safer public spaces to access ICTs. Second, we need more female role models. And third, more diversity in hiring and promotion within tech companies is likely to improve the overall role of women in ICTs.
  • Another of our G20 activities was a forum to bring together the innovative potential of young people in our partner countries: We organized a so-called Hackathon – an intensive work session to create new and tangible solutions to existing problems.

In four different regions worldwide – in Eastern Europe, South America, Eastern Africa and South Asia – we asked teams of two to come up with innovative digital solutions.

I do not want to give away too much. The three winning teams will present their innovations in a few minutes. And I will have the honor of presenting them with their awards later, together with Ms Jaquelline Fuller, president of

We are happy about this collaboration with Google. For us, the private sector is a key partner in advancing women’s empowerment. In our new Plan for an EU-Africa partnership for development and peace we see private investments as a crucial driving force behind sustainable development.

Let me give you two more examples from our work with the private sector:

  • Together with our partners from South Korea and Samsung, we are supporting the training of girls in electronics installation, repair and servicing in Ghana.
  • In Indonesia, we are partnering with Intel to allow female students to gain hands-on experience in tech companies.

It is the private sector, including big tech companies like Google but also tech startups in Mexico or Nigeria, and not the state that creates jobs.

With this role comes responsibility. It is important to have enabling workplace policies, and gender balance in recruitment and promotion if we want to establish the digital sector as an attractive and long-term career option for women.

But, in order to overcome the structural factors behind the digital gender gap, there needs to be joint action from all actors: governments, international organizations, civil society, academia all need to step up to the plate.

Under the German G20 presidency, the digital inclusion of women has gained momentum. And it has also been taken up by the Women 20. I am happy to hear that Argentina, which will take over the G20 presidency in December, has already underlined the importance of female employment in the digital economy.

At the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development we know that supporting women’s empowerment means nothing less than supporting the long overdue full realization of human rights for half of the world’s population – women and girls.

For that, we need all of the world’s population: we need female leaders, but we also need male allies – and this is why I am here today.

I would like to quote Lakshmi Puri – Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and Deputy Executive Director of UN Women – and call upon all of us to "ensure that women’s participation in innovation is not the exception, but becomes the norm".

Over the next few weeks we will set up a new online platform to share stories of girls and women as well as best practices of how to promote them in this field. I would like to invite you to contribute towards shaping the direction and growth of the #eSkills4Girls initiative!

The 6th International "Girls in ICT Day” coming up tomorrow is yet another excellent opportunity to speak out and encourage more women to build their own digital futures.

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