As part of Access Partnership’s Fair Tech Forum, on 16th June, Yamel Sarquis, Policy Manager for the Emerging Markets team held a Fireside Chat with Paola Vega-Castillo, Minister of Science, Technology and Telecommunications of Costa Rica. The chat aimed to discuss Digital Gender Divide and build upon Costa Rica experiences on ICT policies to promote gender equality.
Half of the world’s population is still offline, around 3,7 billion people have no access to the Internet, and most of this portion of the population is women from emerging countries. Women are also less likely to benefit from technology and connectivity due to gender inequality constraints. Moreover, data on Digital Gender Divide are not widely available to serve building informed policies and taking businesses decision to address the issue. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated gender inequalities as the world faced a rapid transformation, diving deeper into the digital world. ICTs use became even more important to overcome the challenges posed by the current situation.
Overall, it was noted that Costa Rica has an advanced ICT Policy Framework. President Carlos Alvarado has a strong commitment to using ICT Policy to accelerate the country’s development through the use of Digital Technologies. Ms. Vega-Castillo highlighted that Costa Rica has a lot of processes in terms of ICT policy development. One of which is the upcoming National Plan for the Development on Telecommunications, the third Plan that the Ministry of ICT will launch in 12 years. To give a fresher look and adapt the Plan to new vision, Ms. Vega-Castillo mentioned that the Costa Rican Government is aiming to connect the National Plan for Development of Telecommunications with the National Plan for Science, Technology, and Innovation. In sum, the Ministry mentioned the intention to joint forces as one plan should strengthen the other in a more integrated view on the use of ICTs.
Ms. Vaga-Castillo highlighted that ICTs serve as backbones to foster Costa Rica not only economic but also social development in Costa Rica. The country is focusing on sustainable and inclusive development through their National Telecommunications plan focusing as well in rural areas, on the coast, that for historical reasons are less developed than those in the urban perimeter. Additionally, more than enhancing infrastructure and connectivity, Ms. Va ga-Castillo emphasized the need to develop knowledge, capabilities, and literacy so citizens could fully benefit from technology, achieving the shared benefit of digital technologies.
Gender as a driver of ICTs policies. Ms. Yamel Sarquis mentioned that Costa Rica ICT Policy mentions the commitment to reduce the Digital Gender divide and develop training and educational programmes taking gender perspective into account. The COVID-19 pandemic also had a more significant impact on women and according to Ms. Vaga-Castillo this represents the need to double efforts in addressing the digital gender divide. The Costa Rican Ministry has a specific cross-cutting policy for gender equality in science, technology, telecommunications, and innovation.
Ms. Vaga-Castillo mentioned that there is a special focus on digital literacy, there is a project under discussion in the Costa Rican Congress that aims to provide women with access, knowledge, and abilities to explore their digital citizenship. This project would have an impact in different generations of women – stimulating young girls and women to enter the STEM field.
Ms. Sarquis also highlighted the value Access Partnership carries in Fair Tech, to implement policies and frameworks that enable society to enjoy benefits promoted by Digital Technologies. Ms. Vaga-Castillo commented on the participation of civil society on the Development of Policies and Plans for ICT use, including public consultation for the population to raise awareness on the use of technology. Moreover, there is a clear need to enhance users’ access to and promoting digital literacy is key for citizens to make informed decision on their use of technology.
In this sense, Ms. Sarquis mentioned that Costa Rica is one of the leading countries in mobile access and female ownership in Latin America. They key takeaways that Ms. Vaga-Castillo mentioned in that regard was that there is need to provide means – as access to a mobile – and infrastructure to reduce the digital gender divide by giving subsidies. However, to achieve the intended impact and for society to enjoy opportunities technology offers, there is a greater need for usability and appropriation of technology. A necessity for women to be creators and not only passive users.
Overall, it was clear that digital sustainability and inclusive future policies that tackle the Digital Gender Divide are essential in leveraging the use of ICT to achieve social and economic development in Latin America. Complex systemic issues such as gender inequality requires actions related to making both infrastructure and knowledge accessible to women and girls to promote a fairer use of tech.