New UNESCO report on Artificial Intelligence and Gender Equality


UNESCO just released its new report on Artificial Intelligence and Gender Equality, which sets forth proposed elements of a Framework on Gender Equality and AI for further consideration, discussion and elaboration amongst various stakeholders.

Advancing gender equality through education, the sciences, culture, information and communication lies at the heart of UNESCO’s mandate, with Gender Equality constituting one of the two Global Priorities of the Organization since 2008. UNESCO is therefore keen to adopt a gender equality lens in its ongoing work on artificial intelligence in all its programme areas.

Research, including UNESCO’s 2019 report I’d Blush if I Could: closing gender divides in digital skills through education, unambiguously shows that the gender biases found in AI training data sets, algorithms and devices have the potential of spreading and reinforcing harmful gender stereotypes. These gender biases risk further stigmatizing and marginalizing women on a global scale. Considering the increasing ubiquity of AI in our societies, such biases put women at risk of being left behind in all realms of economic, political and social life. They may even offset some of the considerable progress that countries have made towards gender equality in the recent past.

AI also risks having a negative impact on women’s economic empowerment and labour market opportunities by leading to job automation. Recent research by the IMF and the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that women are at a significantly higher risk of displacement due to job automation than men are. Indeed, the majority of workers holding jobs that face a high-risk of automation, such as clerical, administrative, bookkeeping and cashier positions are women. It is therefore crucial that women are not left behind in terms of retraining and reskilling strategies to mitigate the impact of automation on job losses.

While AI poses significant threats to gender equality, it is important to recognize that AI also has the potential of making positive changes in our societies by challenging existing gender norms. For example, while an AI-powered recruitment software was found to discriminate against women, AI-powered gender-decoders help employers use gender-sensitive language to write job postings that are more inclusive in order to increase the diversity of their workforce. AI therefore has the potential of being part of the solution for advancing gender equality in our societies.

During the time UNESCO is drafting its Recommendation on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence, it is important to reflect on how to best integrate gender equality considerations into such global normative frameworks. It is also crucial to examine closely how AI codes of ethics can and should be implemented in practical terms. In order to explore these questions, UNESCO's Gender Equality Division initiated a Global Dialogue on Gender Equality and AI with leaders in AI, digital technology and gender equality from academia, civil society and the private sector. 

This Report sets forth proposed elements of a Framework on Gender Equality and AI for further consideration, discussion and elaboration amongst various stakeholders. It shares the main findings from experts' contributions to UNESCO's Dialogue on Gender Equality and AI, as well as additional research and analysis. This is not a comprehensive exploration of the complexities of the AI ecosystem in all its manifestations and its intersections with gender equality. Rather, this is a starting point for conversation and action and has a particular focus on the private sector.

 It argues for the need to 1. Establish a whole society view and mapping of the broader goals we seek to achieve; 2. Generate an understanding of AI Ethics Principles and how to position gender equality within them; 3. Reflect on possible approaches for operationalizing AI and Gender Equality Principles; 4. Identify and develop a funded multi-stakeholder action plan and coalition as a critical next step.

Read the full report here.