By: Koyali Burman
Tomorrow is International Women’s Day – a day to celebrate women’s achievements but also an opportunity to voice our concerns for persisting gender inequalities. As the world continues to struggle with the impacts of COVID-19 – and with our reliance on digital technologies at an all-time high – it is the perfect moment to highlight the digital gender divide. The digital divide between those who can access digital technologies and those who cannot remains a big gap. The COVID-19 pandemic not only laid bare existing disparities in digital access, but also widened the gap for many.
In Canada, marginalized individuals who faced barriers accessing digital technologies prior to the pandemic, such as migrant women, encounter obstacles that are now even more pronounced. Despite this, the pivotal role of digital inclusion in successful settlement for migrant women in British Columbia remains underexplored. From my understanding and broad experience in the settlement & integration sector, many migrant women are unable to afford or access independent computers and use their phones or share devices with their families for work, study, and social connectivity. They have expressed dismissal of their need to have devices of their own as another obstacle to digital access. Access to and control of digital devices has been a major component of migrant women’s experiences of family and domestic violence since the beginning of the pandemic. The digital gender divide for migrant women is intrinsically linked to existing socio-economic inequities, unevenness of technological infrastructure across geographical locations, disparities in digital literacy and skills across different age groups, and gendered allocation of resources and responsibilities within households.
Some settlement organizations in Vancouver have programs that provide devices like computers/laptops to migrant workers in general and women in need as part of their COVID-19 response programs. However, the resources available are not sufficient to address the level of demand. Digital inequity is multifaceted, and technology needs to be looked at from a social justice and service lens. Recovery strategies must ensure that migrant women are not left behind in the COVID-19 response.
Key considerations for service providers:
- Provision of independent devices to migrant women in need, as well as supports to address data poverty and enable access to reliable internet connections, through community organisations, schools, and other charity programs will facilitate enhanced digital inclusion.
- Tailored and culturally responsive digital literacy programs for migrant women of all age groups.
- Addressing the digital divide and erasing digital poverty is key to facilitating the meaningful inclusion of migrant women into new and emerging digital spaces.
Koyali Burman is an accomplished stakeholder engagement and economic development strategist. She has a decade of experience in research, strategic planning, monitoring and evaluation both locally and internationally. Originally from India, she holds a Master of Arts in Adult & Higher Education from the University of British Columbia. She holds a leadership position and has spoken about international migration in various platforms and universities in Canada and India. She has held various board of directors and advisory positions in Canada with the most recent ones being Vice President (Board) to Affiliation of Multicultural Societies and Service Agencies of BC and Secretary to United Nations Association in Canada-Vancouver. Over the past 15+ years she conducted extensive research on women and girls from Sub Saharan Africa, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka to help develop relevant skills that will lead to livelihoods. She has developed a Gender-Sensitive Information & Communication Technology Strategy in Open Schooling and presented the strategy in the Pan Commonwealth Conference in Nigeria, Africa in 2014. Koyali in partnership with financial institutions, has helped create a Small Business Hub to empower women entrepreneurs. In 2018, she received the prestigious Pan Asian Recognition Award for her leadership role in supporting Pan Asian communities in British Columbia. As an executive to the United Nations Association in Canada-Vancouver she is passionate about supporting the UNAC-V’s vision on the Sustainable Development Goals to build strong, safe and resilient communities that will be inclusive and innovative for decades to come.