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On the International Day of the Girl Child, the Global Campaign for Education (GCE) reaffirms its support for the full realisation of girls’ human rights, particularly their right to education from birth. On this occasion, the Global Campaign for Education (GCE) recalls the specific obligations of states and the international community towards indigenous girls and inhabitants of rural areas.

Access to digital technology is crucial for progress in achieving the Sustainable Development Agenda, especially for indigenous girls and inhabitants of rural areas, who have suffered long processes of exclusion and discrimination, now aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic. States and the international community are obligated to close the digital divide urgently through the equitable leveraging of technology in education.

Globally, about 72 percent of households in urban areas had access to the Internet at home in 2019, almost twice as much as in rural areas (nearly 38 percent). The gap in access to the Internet and technology between urban and rural households was small in developed countries. By contrast, in developing countries, urban household access to the Internet was 2.3 times higher than rural household access. In Africa, only 28 percent of urban households had access to the Internet at home. While this is a low percentage, it is still 4.5 times higher than the household percentage in rural areas, where only 6.3 percent of rural households had access to the Internet and technology. From a gendered perspective, it is estimated that globally 55 percent of the male population was using the Internet, compared with 48 percent of the female population[1].

The digital divide affects indigenous and rural girls particularly hard and is one of the ways in which the widespread discrimination against them is manifested. The existing gender gaps in the digital divide have a much more profound negative effect on girls than on boys. Lack of access to the Internet and technology deepens current inequalities in educational access and intensifies their social subordination, particularly in patriarchal societies that traditionally consider boys as more deserving of more significant opportunities in almost all areas, including family life. Consequently, the digital divide suffered by indigenous and rural girls is likely to increase labor, economic and social inequalities in their adult lives if not adequately addressed on time.

The lack of government investment in technological and digital infrastructure in indigenous and rural communities is very evident and when it exists, it does not always take into account the specific needs of girls, nor does it follow gender-sensitive guidelines that offer culturally appropriate responses for indigenous girls and their families.

As Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, states: ‘issues of access to, use and misuse of digital technologies should be guided by international human rights norms and principles, especially equality, non-discrimination, inclusion, participation and the provision of effective remedies’[2]

Therefore, the human rights framework is the base from which to urgently respond to the educational and cultural needs of girls in general, particularly those who live in indigenous and rural communities. In trying to adequately respond to the challenges in education that were brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, most countries opted for various forms of distance education using the Internet, television, or radio. However, these very forms of distance education can be a barrier to accessing education in rural areas, due to poor Internet coverage or lack of continuous electricity, or because households do not have the technological devices for distance learning[3] and skills to use them, such as cellphones, laptops, radios or television sets.

Significantly, language barriers further complicate access to information. In many cases, indigenous peoples’ languages are not included in digital platforms, and their contents are not culturally relevant nor are they developed to transform gender inequality. Due to this, it is critical that digital technology in education be used in a decolonial manner that allows the full participation of the learners it is meant to help. One essential aspect of the decolonial usage of technology in education is ensuring that the technology or digital platform itself is in the language of the community within which it is meant to be used.

The Global Campaign for Education (GCE) recalls that indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination is internationally recognized and it means that indigenous peoples have the right to decide what is best for themselves and their communities. By not having access to information and communication technologies, informed decision-making on what is best for themselves and their communities becomes problematic, and the effect on girls’ education is devastating.

The Global Campaign for Education urges all state parties to:

  • Implement rapid programs and infrastructure to expand internet coverage and develop specific gender-sensitive initiatives to increase girls’ access to ICTs and close the gender digital divide for girls living in rural areas and indigenous communities.
  • Deepen efforts to secure indigenous peoples ‘access to appropriate intercultural education through digital technologies, which allow the full participation and development of girls’ capacities and human rights.
  • Provide technical and psychosocial assistance, translation services, and responsive information to the cultural context where indigenous girls live.

[1] ITU, 2020. Facts and figures. Available at https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Statistics/Documents/facts/FactsFigures2020.pdf

[2] https://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=27550&LangID=E

[3] https://www.unicef.org/lac/sites/unicef.org.lac/files/2020-08/UNICEF-call-to-action-ALTA_0.pdf

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The Global Campaign for Education (GCE) is a civil society movement that aims to end exclusion in education. Education is a basic human right, and our mission is to make sure that governments act now to deliver the right of everyone to a free, quality, public education.