faculty & experts
26 October 2021

Promoting Gender Equality in the Digital World

Claire Somerville, Executive Director of the Gender Centre and Lecturer at the Graduate Institute, is participating in the Equals-EU project, which seeks to promote gender equality in social innovation and the digital world. 

You are participating in the Equals-EU Project, which is a Horizon 2020 project funded by the European Union. Can you tell us more about this project and what makes it unique?

Horizon 2020 is the biggest EU research and innovation programme ever. Our EQUALS-EU project aims to build capacity to promote gender equality in social innovation and the digital world.

Through my work at the Gender Centre, I have been an active member of the EQUALS Global Partnership since its launch by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) here in Geneva in 2016, which is where I met colleagues from academic institutions interested in collaborating on this current EU project.

The project aims to establish capacity through multilateral collaborations to empower women and girls to build smart, sustainable and inclusive digital ecosystems.

The project’s uniqueness derives from its scope to bridge new research with hands-on, practice-based activities to increase diversity and access in the STEM field.

We will be actively engaging with our Graduate Institute students to participate in an Innovation Camp, an Incubator Programme and a month-long Boot Camp to find solutions to womens’ and girls’ digital inclusion, develop women-led start-ups, and finally provide support to future women-leaders in digital innovation.

It is an enormous opportunity to push the frontiers on digital inclusion in both research and in practice.

For this project, you are collaborating with 19 partners from all over the world. How is the collaboration going?

Our partners stretch across Europe and beyond, with Oslo Metropolitan (Oslomet) taking the lead on coordinating us across six work streams.

Our partnership includes not only universities (e.g. Stockholm University, Kharkiv National University, University of Valencia, University of Koln, Orta Doğu Teknik Üniversitesi, University of Haifia, Latvian Academy of Sciences and the United Nations University, Macau) but also a number of tech labs, companies, start-ups and associations bringing multi-sector skills and knowledge to our work.

As a digital project, we had already prepared to work online and embraced the pandemic-related acceleration of creative remote-working platforms. However, we look forward to our first F2F in early 2022 where we can finally meet beyond the onscreen squares.

What activities will you organise within this framework?

Our next big activity at the Graduate Institute will be our Innovation Camp in April next year. We hope to engage around 50 of our students to participate on issues of Feminism, Women’s Leadership and International Law and Policy.

A participatory co-design process will bring together our consortia experts with a student-working group led by our student research assistant on the project, Carolina Earle, to deliver an exciting solutions-oriented camp.

As we move forward with the research on gender in the digital age, we will host a series of events with guest speakers and experts from across International Geneva to raise awareness and generate dialogue between research, policy and practice.

What are some other priority areas you see for women? Are you working on specific projects within the Gender Centre that concern these areas?

The technology and STEM areas have been slow to engage and then retain women and girls but the digital gender gap is deeper and wider than the workforce and its tech users.

I worked as an applied research anthropologist in the digital health field for several years in the mid-2000s and there was little awareness of the digital gender gap unfolding before our eyes, nor of the gendered social norms reproduced through technology.

The pandemic has accelerated progress in the digital health space – from telemedicine to the use of disease transmission apps and wearable oxygen meters in smart watches – and research that captures the gendered dimensions to these societal innovations will be an important pillar of research going forward.