Digital Skills Will Prove Vital in Tackling Global Inequality, UNICEF Chief Says

Monica Schipper/Getty Images for UNICEF
  • Henrietta Fore said remote learning is needed in every country of the world.
  • "Half of the world is not connected to the internet. And when you look globally at statistics, women tend to be less often connected than men," she told CNBC's "Finding Solutions."

LONDON — Henrietta Fore, the executive director of UNICEF, told CNBC that solving a "digital divide" is essential for addressing global equality.

Fore, who took up her role at the U.N. agency in 2018, said remote learning is needed in every country of the world, whereby education is reimagined "so that every child has the chance to learn, even in a pandemic."

"Half of the world is not connected to the internet. And when you look globally at statistics, women tend to be less often connected than men," she told CNBC's "Finding Solutions" on the sidelines of the Goals House January Dialogues event.

"So, if we do not give digital skills to girls, to the poorest, to the most marginalized in every society, we cannot have an equal basis for the world," she added.

Goals House, a collaboration between many of the world's most influential figures, focuses on using the 17 U.N. Sustainable Development Goals as a roadmap for a reset, following the Covid-19 crisis. 

Modern slavery

Other participants in the show, which explores gender equality, include Britain's Princess Eugenie. The princess launched The Anti-Slavery Collective with Julia de Boinville in 2017 to help raise awareness of modern slavery, which includes forced labor, human trafficking and forced early marriage.

A 2016 report, published by the International Labour Organization and the Walk Free Foundation in partnership with the International Organization for Migration, estimated that 40.3 million people were living in modern slavery around the world. It said 71% of those affected were women and girls.

Eugenie told CNBC she had been moved to focus on the issues of modern slavery after a trip to India in 2011 where she met the Women's Interlink Foundation which helps trafficked women. "It sort of spurred us on to create The Anti-Slavery Collective which looks to raise awareness and convene people around modern slavery and how we can really effect change in that world," she said.

Speaking before the birth of her son on Feb. 9, the princess told CNBC that she hopes that her child will also continue to make a difference in the world.

"I think my child hopefully will be one of those people who will continue to see the world as a place that can be changed. I would love people to continue to have hope that we can make a difference," she said.

Supporting rural communities

Meanwhile, model, actress and activist Sabrina Dhowre Elba told CNBC at the event that she was inspired by her own mother to become a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador for the International Fund for Agricultural Development, supporting rural women and girls.

"My mom comes from a rural community in Somalia, and I was born in Canada, but she was always speaking about the importance of agriculture in these communities, and how the majority of women in those communities work in informal markets as she once did," she said.

Elba said the Covid-19 pandemic and climate change had impacted those informal markets, including the closure of transportation routes. She told CNBC that how women and young people in rural communities are perceived has also been part of the problem.

"I think women are looked at as incapable in some ways of doing the work that their counterparts do, and that's changing as well, because as we all know ... we are very capable, and it's about investment and it's the systems around them that are broken as opposed to the women themselves," she said.

Representation 'matters'

The representation of women and girls and telling their stories has been the central focus of Glamour magazine for over 80 years. 

Speaking at the same virtual event, the editor-in-chief of U.S. Glamour, Samantha Barry, told CNBC, "I think it's important for lots of women across lots of different walks of lives to see themselves represented in beauty and fashion content, in sex and relationship content, in content that is joyous and celebrates them as much as it is about the fight for equality."

"I know that at Glamour we're very conscious of that in the people that we include, and representation, we know from our audience, matters more than ever," she added.

Barry said the crisis had been a "huge setback" for women and the conversations around achieving the U.N.'s Sustainable Development Goal focused on gender equality were very important.

"It shouldn't only be driven by women," she said. "It should be driven by the whole community, a global community, getting on board, understanding the difference that gender equality makes to the world around them, for their mothers and their daughters and their sisters and just the general world."

Don't miss more coverage of inequality and Finding Solutions next week, kicking off on March 8 with International Women's Day.

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