Aiming to raise awareness about the effects of AI on women, and to outline the challenges and opportunities emerging from AI technologies, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the Inter-American Development Bank (IAD), and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) came together to examine the effects of the use of AI on the working lives of women. The ensuing report, published in March 2022, “outlines current knowledge of the impact that AI systems have on women’s opportunities for work, and their position, treatment and status in the workforce”.
Among the issues highlighted by the report, the gap in digital skills and access to the internet between men and women stands out. This gap is more pronounced in the Global South. This ‘gendered divide’ in connectivity and digital skills between genders reduces the chances of women searching and applying for jobs, securing a job and thriving in an existing role.
The report also analyses various different case studies of projects and applications involving AI systems. For instance, in most Eastern and Southern African countries, around 62% of women are involved in agricultural work. However, significant gender inequalities in the sector remain, due to diverse factors, including inequitable access to resources such as land, machinery, pesticides, and so on. In order to address these issues, several projects involving AI technology are being undertaken to help women farmers. UN Women has developed a platform that provides information, helps with planning, and connects women farmers with supply chains. Additionally, an AI-based solution is being developed in Senegal which aims to optimise and automate irrigation systems.
An additional case study is focusing on the initiatives that are being developed to tackle harassment in the workplace. In Brazil “#MeTooBots” have been used to detect bullying and harassment in digital communications between colleagues. In Latin America, through partnership programs, 12 universities in the region have been offering training courses in new technologies to promote women’s digital skills and prepare them for possible employment in the digital sector.
Besides outlining the risks and problems that the use of AI systems in the workplace can pose for women, the report also underlines the opportunities and challenges that AI could provide to improve women’s working conditions. The report noted the lack of research about the possible problematic impacts that developing technologies can have on women’s lives in the Global South. As well as additional research, there also seems to be a need for governmental and institutional action to encourage and train women to work in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The report also stresses that the cultural and contextual complexities of different regions must be taken into account when designing and implementing AI systems to avoid women’s working lives being negatively impacted.
Other issues and challenges still need to be analysed, such as the ways in which AI monitoring systems can affect women’s lives, especially in the domestic and care roles traditionally associated with women. Likewise, the study notes that the possible bias in hiring systems along with the limited internet access women in some regions have, can perpetuate, and potentially worsen current gender inequalities. As has been outlined, much is yet to be done to understand the challenges and opportunities AI technology can provide and how these technologies can be used to “create fair and equitable work, advancing the civil and socio-economic rights of women”.