Digital development is predicted to alleviate the consequences of pandemics for vulnerable groups. It requires states to work to ensure that access to connectivity is equal and inclusive. Photo: Pixabay / Myriams_Fotos.


Can digital development alleviate the consequences of pandemics for marginalized groups? 

Digital development is increasingly highlighted as an effective way to deal with the pandemic. Especially in international development cooperation. But a non-inclusive transition risks increasing the digital exclusion of marginalized groups. 

The corona pandemic has been going on for just over six months with far-reaching global restrictions. It is clear that access to technology, in particular internet connection, is crucial for how people can handle the pandemic and switch. Through digital schooling from home, and managing everything from conferences to healthcare contacts through video conferencing, technology has alleviated the effects of pandemics for millions of people. 

Development depends on digitization: the transition from analogue to digital. On the other hand, digitalisation is neither universal nor equal. The World Bank, together with several international organizations, points out in the report Covid-19 Crisis Response that almost half of the world's population does not have access to the internet, which makes them more exposed to the consequences of the pandemic. The relatively smooth transition to telework that many Swedes have experienced is far from an option for everyone.

Digital reforms can create new opportunities

The economic and social effects of the pandemic have clearly shown how dependent we are on technology. According to a investigation report from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) on the economic situation in South America and the Pacific region, the pandemic could be the starting point for digital reforms that have taken too long. In the hard-hit regions, low-income earners and marginalized groups without social safety nets in particular have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic. Through conversion to digital systems, working methods and expanded use, opportunities can be opened up for new start-ups of companies, training and jobs, according to the report.

Worse situation for marginalized groups

Digital development is based on the fact that many people have the opportunity to connect online. Those who do not have access to digital tools are already excluded. Continued development mainly benefits those who are already connected - with the result that they are even more excluded. There is also a gender equality problem. As the US aid agency USAID refers to in its digital strategy for covid-19, men have more access to the internet than women. Women's digital exclusion and socio-economic costs associated with not using the internet risk increasing if equal access to new services can not be guaranteed. 

For many, computers and the internet have become indispensable in adapting to a new life situation. What does this mean for the millions of people who are outside the development? Photo: Pixabay / Engin_Akyurt.

In addition, unregulated digitalisation can restrict people's freedom of movement and expression through threats and harassment - even here with a greater burden on women, according to USAID. Digitization is also not without problems for a connected country like Sweden. In Dagens Nyheters article series about Sweden's seniors, Ida Yttergren writes about the difficulty for many older people to keep up with when societal functions, such as care contacts, go digital.

International partnerships a good way forward

Global developments point to the need for digitization in several sectors. For millions of people, technology becomes indispensable while technology can cause new obstacles for others. International strategies for dealing with the consequences of the pandemic need to analyze how the transition to a digital society affects different people. Sweden has good knowledge from international partnerships for sustainable digital development, for example Sida's participation in the creation of Digital Impact Alliance. Inclusive, sustainable digital development can counteract growing inequalities. Lack of investment and a lack of understanding of digital development can instead exacerbate existing inequalities, both in Sweden and internationally.

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