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Artificial Intelligence: Women’s enemy or empowerment?

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A visitor watches an AI (Artificial Intelligence) sign on an animated screen, in Barcelona. Historically, technology has not always been neutral, and AI systems can inherit biases present in the data used for their development, potentially leading to discriminatory outcomes. However, by actively participating in the development and implementation of AI-driven solutions, women can harness technology to amplify their voices, expand economic opportunities, and advocate for their rights on a global scale. – Picture: Josep Lago / AFP

By Tinuade Adekunbi Ojo

The recent report published by Unesco on the intersection of artificial intelligence (AI) with gender dynamics illuminates a nuanced discourse surrounding AI’s portrayal as either a potential threat to women’s rights and opportunities or a vehicle for their empowerment. This report emerges within a broader context characterised by rapid technological advancements and increasing recognition of the multifaceted implications of AI on society, including its impact on gender equality.

One perspective, within the report posits that AI technologies may exacerbate existing gender disparities and perpetuate gender-based discrimination and bias. Historically, technology has not always been neutral, and AI systems can inherit biases present in the data used for their development, potentially leading to discriminatory outcomes. Moreover, the automation of certain tasks traditionally performed by women in sectors such as caregiving and administrative roles raises concerns about job displacement and economic marginalisation.

Conversely, another perspective articulated in the report highlights the potential of AI to catalyse women’s empowerment and gender equality. AI technologies can enhance access to information, education, and healthcare, thereby empowering women to make informed decisions about their lives and participate more fully in economic, social, and political spheres. Additionally, AI-driven innovations hold promise for addressing gender-based violence, improving maternal health outcomes, and advancing women’s representation in STEM fields.

In the current landscape of gender inequality, artificial intelligence (AI) emerges as a potential solution for empowering women, marking a pivotal moment in history where technology can catalyse in favour of those who contribute substantially to the global economy and humanity.

Women are significant contributors to the global economy through unpaid labour, accounting for 9.3 percent of the global GDP, which translates to over 11 trillion dollars annually. However, despite their substantial economic contribution, women receive less than 1 percent of capital for businesses and possess less than 10 percent of the global wealth. This glaring disparity underscores the profound injustice entrenched within societal structures.

The enormity of this gap and the injustice it perpetuates cannot be overstated. It is imperative for individuals of all genders who uphold principles of equity and fairness to collaborate in rectifying this imbalance, which has pervasive repercussions for the entire planet. Addressing this issue demands concerted efforts across various domains, including digital transformation, sustainable finance, and political action.

Central to this endeavour is the imperative for women to assume leadership roles in driving digital transformation. The rapid advancement of technology, particularly AI, presents unprecedented opportunities to reshape societal norms and dismantle barriers to women’s empowerment.

By actively participating in the development and implementation of AI-driven solutions, women can harness technology to amplify their voices, expand economic opportunities, and advocate for their rights on a global scale. Moreover, fostering inclusivity and diversity in the tech sector is essential to ensure that AI innovations address the needs and concerns of women from diverse backgrounds.

Furthermore, sustainable finance represents a critical avenue for advancing gender equality and economic empowerment. Women-led initiatives and businesses often face significant challenges in accessing financial resources and investment opportunities. By promoting gender-responsive financing mechanisms and investment strategies, such as gender-lens investing and impact investing, the financial sector can channel resources towards initiatives that prioritise women’s economic empowerment and social inclusion.

Moreover, fostering partnerships between financial institutions, governments, and civil society organisations can facilitate the creation of supportive ecosystems that enable women entrepreneurs to thrive and contribute meaningfully to economic growth and development.

In addition to digital transformation and sustainable finance, political action plays a pivotal role in advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment. Women’s participation and leadership in political decision-making processes are essential for ensuring that policies and legislation reflect the diverse needs and perspectives of women.

Moreover, advocating for gender-responsive policies, such as equal pay, parental leave, and access to education and healthcare, is crucial for dismantling systemic barriers that perpetuate gender inequality. By mobilising collective action and amplifying their voices, women can drive transformative change at local, national, and global levels.

Unesco’s report underscores the importance of adopting a gender-responsive approach to AI development and deployment, one that actively considers and addresses the specific needs, interests, and challenges women face. This entails promoting diversity and inclusivity in AI research and development processes, ensuring that datasets are representative and free from bias, and fostering women’s participation and leadership in the design and implementation of AI technologies.

Moreover, the report emphasises the critical role of education and capacity-building initiatives in equipping women with the skills and knowledge needed to navigate the digital landscape effectively. By promoting digital literacy and STEM education for women and girls, Unesco aims to empower them to harness the potential of AI for their personal and professional advancement.

Reflecting on the analysis on AI as both a potential threat and a means of empowerment for women reflects the complexity and nuances of the ongoing discourse surrounding gender and technology. By acknowledging the risks and opportunities inherent in AI deployment, and by advocating for gender-responsive approaches to AI development and implementation, Unesco seeks to ensure that women are not left behind in the digital age but rather empowered to participate fully and benefit from the opportunities afforded by AI technologies.

AI presents a transformative opportunity for advancing women’s empowerment and closing the gender gap in economic participation and wealth ownership. By harnessing the potential of technology, promoting sustainable finance, and engaging in political action, women can lead efforts to create a more equitable and inclusive society.

However, achieving meaningful progress requires collective action and collaboration among individuals of all genders who are committed to building a world where women have equal opportunities to thrive and contribute to the advancement of humanity.

Tinuade Adekunbi Ojo is Associate Professor in the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Johannesburg (UJ)