Intel Corporation recently released a report on the state of women and the Internet in developing worlds: Women and the Web. It is discouraging and maddening.
Here are some of the facts that startled me…
- 25 percent fewer women than men have access to the Internet, and the gender gap soars to nearly 45 percent in regions like sub-Saharan Africa. Even in rapidly growing economies the gap is enormous. Nearly 35 percent fewer women than men in South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa have Internet access, and nearly 30 percent in parts of Europe and across Central Asia. In most higher-income countries, women’s Internet access only minimally lags that of men’s, and in countries such as France and the United States, in fact exceeds it.
- One in five women in India and Egypt believe the Internet is not “appropriate” for them. Gender-based barriers are real. These women believe engaging online would not be useful for them, and if they did, their families would disapprove.
- In India, Internet-based economic activity accounts for more than 5 percent of GDP growth. Without access to the Internet, women lack access to its tools, resources and opportunities.
- Across all developing countries, about 75 percent of women are literate, compared to 86 percent of men.
- Lack of awareness of the Internet’s potential benefits keeps women from tapping its potential.
- Almost 40 percent of women who don’t use the Internet cite lack of familiarity or comfort with technology as a reason.
- Women who access the Internet via more than one platform report greater benefits than those who use only computers or only mobiles.
- The longer a woman has been engaging online, the more likely she is to engage in activities that yield tangible benefits.
Some facts ring true with what we know about non-adopters here in Minnesota. Non-adopting women don’t see the value and don’t have the skills to learn more. One fact I think could spur a huge discussion on value of wired and wireless infrastructure learning that women who access the Internet via more than one platform report greater benefits than those who use only computers or only mobiles. I could write a whole post on that fact! But I think the most striking facts are the alarming gender gaps and fact that some women find the Internet to be not appropriate to them. Aargh! I suspect that those who are perpetuating that idea are afraid of what ready access to unfiltered (or even filtered) information might do to the status quo in their communities.
How could the status quo change? The report goes to talk about what the Internet do:
- Boosts women’s income and income potential.
- Increases women’s sense of empowerment.
- Increases women’s sense of equity.
But it isn’t all doom and gloom. The report also indicates that a dedicated global effort to address the Internet gender gap could double the number of women online within three years. And the report provides a call for action; here are the recommendations they make. (Some of these
Stakeholders in industry should:
- Expand access to affordable platforms through innovative low-cost designs, such as through technology designed specifically for education
- Expand options for free content access to generate interest and lower the initial hurdle for non-users, for example by making content available without data charges through the mobile Internet, while recognizing that such content is not a substitute for unrestricted access on fully functional platforms
Stakeholders in the development community should:
- Support the establishment and growth of Internet advocacy organizations that prioritize gender-focused initiatives. Examples are WOUGNET (the Women of Uganda network) at the country level, ArabDev at the regional level, and APC (the Association for Progressive Communication) at the global level
- Develop comprehensive national plans for increasing broadband penetration that address gender-specific barriers to access
- Address market constraints that impact the affordability of Internet platforms, such as ensuring healthy competition, while also supporting women directly through programs such as targeted subsidies
All stakeholders should collaborate to:
Address factors hindering access for individual women and girls:
- Develop and share content relevant to women, such as health information and e-government services, as well as “safe” online communities that encourage expression while addressing appropriateness concerns
- Ensure that existing Internet access initiatives give women and girls a seat at the table, and that they incorporate the full package of needs: hardware, software, connectivity, training, and ongoing support/maintenance
- Integrate digital and information literacy into existing programs targeting women and girls
- Address the gender inequality underlying many barriers to Internet access; for example, by investing in girls’ education or women’s access to finance
- Invest in bringing technology and long-term training to the hardest to reach populations, such as low-income and rural women
- Support piloting of programs to address women specific needs, such as for “safe” access points like women-only Internet cafes, and government measures to increase online safety
Address factors affecting the Internet ecosystem:
- Make topic experts available to bring gender awareness to telecommunications policies, and technical awareness to gender policies. For example, universal access programs should be designed to address the types of gender-specific barriers identified by this study
- Bring women to the table as leaders and decision makers throughout the ecosystem to serve as role models, and to advocate for inclusion of and ensure that gender-specific considerations are represented as policies, products and services are developed
- Collect and openly share gender-disaggregated access and usage data
- Invest in local women ICT leaders to serve as role models, trainers, content creators, and supporters for women and girls in their communities
- Establish public-private partnerships to continue studying the gender perspective, expand awareness of the Internet’s benefits, and develop actionable recommendations
I share this information for two reasons. One, we should all be a little angry at this discrepancy. Two, I think there are some gems in these calls to action that will be helpful in any adoption effort.