As part of addressing the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Graduate Women International (GWI) convened in Geneva, Switzerland, on 8 September 2016, to call for digital literacy for girls and women as quintessential to modern literacy skillsets. Of the 758 million people worldwide who are illiterate, two thirds are estimated to be female. This directly affects SDG 4 – Quality Education and SDG 5 – Gender Equality, with flow-on effects to SDG 1 – No Poverty, SDG 2 – Zero Hunger and SDGs 3 and 8 – Good Health and Well-Being and Decent Work and Economic Growth, respectively.
The inability to read or write is no longer restricted to books and paper-based mediums. It relates also, to the digital world, where knowledge in the use of smartphone, tablets, computers is the key to an increasingly digitised environment. GWI asks for outreach movements to girls and women in all sectors of society to develop “multi-stakeholder cooperation in infrastructure-building, education and policy making” to prevent further marginalisation of vulnerable or isolated groups.
GWI highlights how many females are unable to benefit from access to devices or the internet, despite growing internet coverage. In South Asia, for example, 38% of women are less likely to own a mobile phone than men for various reasons, including “lack of control over finances and decision-making.” GWI requests that such cultural and social norms are challenged to improve the lives of females and to support more forms of empowerment.
The organisation has also adamantly stated that it wishes to leverage information and communication technology (ICT) to ensure greater prosperity for all. ICT is regarded as an invaluable teaching tool, and in using more innovative inventions, females are able to address both issues of illiteracy and unfamiliarity with technology.
As put eloquently by Catherine Bell, President of GWI, “for sustainable development and increased prosperity for all, it is critical that the advantages of digital literacy are made freely available and accessible to girls and women of all countries and all means, hand-in-hand with conventional literacy education.”