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Rise of the next digital divide: Women and the web

New global report sheds light on lack of internet access, use by women

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Without intervention, explained Melanne Verveer, ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues for the U.S. Department of State, “women’s lack of access is giving rise to a second digital divide.”

Detailed information about the survey’s findings and the authors’ recommendations can be found in the full report here.

The facts

Based on interviews and surveys of 2,200 women and girls living in the urban and near-urban areas of four focus countries (Egypt, India, Mexico, and Uganda), the gender gap—which today prevents 200 million women from participating online—is projected to perpetuate.

Without any concerted action, 450 million new female internet users are projected to come online in the next three years, simply as a result of “organic growth in internet penetration,” says the report.

Yet, more than 40 experts in the fields of gender, the internet, and Information and Communications Technology (ICT) believe that progress can be accelerated to add 600 million new female internet users within three years, rather than 450 million, which would double the number of women and girls online.

Such an expansion, says the report, would:

  • Expand opportunities—180 million would improve their ability to generate income, nearly 500 million would improve their education, and more than 500 million would feel they had greater freedom as a result of being online.
  • Open up a market opportunity of $50 to $70 billion in new sales of platforms and data plans.
  • Contribute an estimated $13 to $18 billion to annual Gross Domestic Product across 144 developing countries.
  • Reach beyond these women to also expand opportunities for their families, potentially impacting three billion people worldwide.

Other interesting findings include: one in five women in India and Egypt believe the internet is not “appropriate” for them and their families might disapprove; affordability of access remains a challenge for all, but particularly for women; illiteracy also poses a greater problem to online access for women than for men; women lack awareness of the internet’s potential benefits outside of social networks; and almost 40 percent of women who don’t use the internet cite lack of comfort with technology.

Recommendations

The report’s recommendations are based on existing actions that work well and could be scaled and replicated, proposals of experts in gender and ICT, and on the suggestions of women and girls who participated in the survey.

The recommendations cover a range of interventions from skills and leadership training to social empowerment, to research and data gathering.

For example, stakeholders in the industry should expand access to affordable platforms through innovative low-cost designs, as well as expand options for free content access.

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