Efforts to reduce digital inequality

For the first time in 11 years, the Internet Governance Forum was held in Africa. Taking place in the continent with the least connectivity , as 60% of the population is without internet access, the event is expected to create effective solutions to be open, free, inclusive and secure for all.
The 17th Internet Governance Forum was held in Ethiopia from November 28 to December 2. (Photo: The organising board)
The 17th Internet Governance Forum was held in Ethiopia from November 28 to December 2. (Photo: The organising board)

Themed “Resilient Internet for a shared, sustainable, and common future”, the 17th Internet Governance Forumwas held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia from November 28 to December 2. The forum aimed to call for collective actionand shared responsibility, strengthen connectivity, protect human rights and look for measures to digital poverty, manage data and protect privacy rights, and promote advanced digital technologies. Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations (UN) Li Junhua, stressed that the “collective duty” in Addis Ababa is to unleash the power and potential of theresilient internet, for a sustainable and common future.

The event was held amid increasing warnings about the implications of digital inequality. According to the UN’s statistics, 2.7 billion people around the world, most of whom are women and in developing countries, have not had access to the internet. The UN Deputy Secretary-General and Chair of the UN Sustainable Development Group Amina Mohammed once warned that if the international community does not take decisive action, the gap in digital technology will become the new face of inequality.

With the right policies, it is clear that digital technology can provide an unprecedented boost to sustainable development, especially in the poorest countries. Discussions are underway at many levels, to promote political commitments on narrowing the increasing digital divide, especially in the context that the world is striving to overcome consequences caused by COVID-19 and achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by the end of the decade. However, the deeper digital divide between developed and developing countries has made global discussions on digital technology lack comprehensiveness.

Both resources and capacity for digital transformation, even in developed economies, are not equal. The result of a survey, which was funded by the UK Government, showed that more than 50% of public servants, said public agencies in the country still lack the technological tools, resources and skills needed, to drive digital transformation in public services. About 63% of civil servants working in digital transformation cited those old technologies are barriers, meanwhile, 61% blamed lack of funding and 50% mentioned the inability to recruit high-quality personnel. More than 75% of respondents saidinnovation is the key to improving the quality of public services, while more than 75% wished to receive more training in digital skills.

The UN has regularly stressed the role of the SDGs as a guide in the recovery process following the COVID-19 pandemic. The goal of leaving no one behind means ensuring connectivity for everyone in the digital environment. Achieving global connectivity cannot depend solely on individual actions of governments or technology companies, but requires a joint effort, with cooperation among central and local governments, the private sector, multilateral organisations and people.

The UN Secretary-General proposed a global Digital Compact, focusing on a human-centred digital space with the protection of privacy, as well as the safe and responsible use of data. The Compact outlined common principles for an open, free and secure digital future for all.