Photo courtesy of GIZ

The digital economy can be identified as converting the traditional market into a virtual platform. American scientist D. Tapscott, who is the author of the book titled The Digital Economy; Promise and Peril in the Age of Networked Intelligence defines digital economy as a type of economy based on the use of digital technologies. According to Shruti Jain, the digital economy is a broad range of economic activities comprising all jobs in the digital sector as well as digital occupations in non-digital sectors. The definitions highlight digitised knowledge and information as basic components of the digital economy. In the digital era, there is a strong relationship between the digital economy and economic security. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) defines economic security as the ability of individuals, households or communities to cover their essential needs sustainability and with dignity. Thus, economic security is one of the main dimensions of national security and it is functioning as a subsystem of the national security of a country.

According to the Department of Census and Statistics,  the male labour force participation rate (68.4%) is higher than female labour force participation (32.0%). Women have had lower labour force participation rates than men since 2019. Its latest annual report showed that unemployment rates for men and women stood at 3.7 per cent and 6.5 per cent respectively. So where are Sri Lankan women in the economy? It reflects gender disparities in the economy. This is one of the real issues behind the economic insecurity. In this scenario, what is the future living standard of individuals? It is important to take steps to empower women by addressing policy reforms to strengthen the nation’s economy for both today and tomorrow in the digital era

Gender disparity is one of the issues behind the economic insecurity therefore it is imperative to address policy reforms to strengthen the economy. This may be one of the best answers to resolve the current socio-economic issues faced by people and families to secure their quality of life.

According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, “Increasing women’s freedom to make decisions impacting their lives and participation in the decision-making process, amongst other things, thereby guaranteeing them the possibility of realizing their full potential in society and shaping their lives in accordance with their own aspirations as a means to achieve gender equality”. Most of the women in Sri Lanka are unwilling to engage in economic activities in the formal sector due to their social responsibilities and cultural barriers. This is a hidden truth regarding Sri Lankan women. However, they are engaging with small and medium or micro enterprises to enhance their household incomes. In this context, digitalisation provides more opportunities for women to increase their accessibility to the market and build financial networks. Galvanising women, particularly youth, in the digital economy is vital to enhancing job opportunities, bridging the gender gap in the economic sector, reducing inequalities and ensuring inclusive and sustainable economic growth.

Digital literacy is a core tool that helps to increase insights and knowledge. Those who are engaging in the digital economy should have a deeper understanding of digital technologies for digital business. In general, if someone can use and manage digital devices with a deep understanding of the digital content, they can be identified as digitally literate. The Department of Census and Statistics states, “A person (aged 5-69) is considered as a digitally literate person if he/she could use a computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone on his/her own”. It says that the digital literacy of males was 62.3 per cent and female was 57.9 per cent in 2022. Females have a considerable ability to use digital devices. Statistics on female digital literacy reveal that women in the estate sector have a low digital literacy rate when compared to the rural and urban sectors. (Urban – 72.7%, Rural – 58.3% and Estate sector – 41.0%).

Empowering women should include the use of digital platforms such as social media for marketing because it is a powerful tool that helps to expand access to markets. It should also cover digital finance – digital payment system for financial transactions. We can teach women farmers to use mobile phones to purchase goods related to agriculture, participate in online training programmes and online market platform to increase their agricultural production. However, we need to identify the priorities that they need and a proper monitoring system.

Threats against women in the digital platform destructively influence their human security. According to the World Economic Forum, issues on data privacy and the online prevalence of mis and disinformation have been identified as the core of cyber security concerns. “Cyber security will become less about protecting the confidentiality and availability of information and more about protecting its integrity and provenance,” it said. Building a digital trust is also very important in the digital economy. Threats to women engaging in digital economic activities cause them to reduce their engagement in these activities. Women who are active in the digital space are more vulnerable in the face of digital security and privacy and need to be educated on data protection, fraud, consumer financial protection and actions to mitigate the risk and actions.

Societal norms and cultural constraints disproportionately affect the women engaging in economic activities in the digital space therefore training them is the responsibility of government agencies. Universities, in collaboration with international agencies, should educate women to change their attitudes about the internet such as unsafe and an exploitative space. We need to show women how to enter the labour market like men and improve their financial status. Shifting towards gender equitable attitudes directly helps to sustain the individual’s economic health and to the economic security of Sri Lanka.

Women and girls are facing structural economic inequalities. Educating women and girls in digital entrepreneurship contributes to bridging the existing gender gap in labour force participation. It has an immersive power to enhance innovations and productivity and to build domestic, regional and global networks. It contributes to decreasing the income disparity among women.

The digital economy has the strength to increase the economic sustainability of individuals so it is a road map to the healthy wellbeing of individuals and the economic sustainability of the country. Asian girls and women lag behind in digital skills, digital driven entrepreneurship and access to leadership positions in the digital economy. Empowering women in the digital age is a powerful driver in the economic landscape.