Digital Inclusion for Women and its Global Impact

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As a Ghanaian-American female-owned technology founder, I represent less than 4% of funded female startups. According to reports published by JPMorgan Chase partners with digitalundivided, “critical barriers that black female founders face, includ[es] access to accelerators, top investors, and mentors and funding pipelines.”

Gender inequality is not simply a topic of discussion, it’s a harsh reality globally. From the most developed countries to the least developed countries, gender inequality continues to stifle economic potential for nations around the world. Gender inequality exists throughout a multitude of mediums: employment opportunities, disparities in household roles and duties, and differences in access and usage of digital tools and services such as phones, internet, online banking services, and others alike.

There is a drastic gender gap in usage and access to digital services. In 2020, 62% of all men were using the internet as compared to 57% of all women users (International Telecommunication Unit, 2021). These disparities in access to digital tools and services vary across regions as reflected in the chart.

 

Region Women’s Internet Use Men’s Internet Use Use Gap Countries Average 
North America 94% 95% 1%
Latin America 60% 64% 12%
Europe 77% 81% 5%
Middle-East and North Africa 77% 79% 9%
Sub-Saharan Africa 28% 38% 43%
Central Asia 57% 64% 15%
East Asia 83% 86% 2%
SouthEast Asia-Pacific 60% 67% 11%
South Asia 18% 37% 137%

Source:  Regional variance of the gender gap. Credit: World Wide Web Foundation 2020

 

According to the reports, the gender digital divide has three components. The first is  access and the use of digital technologies and the internet women have. The second is the development of the skills needed to use digital technologies and to participate in their design and production. The third is the advancement of women to visible leadership and decision making roles in the digital sector.

 

Barriers to Digital Inclusion for Women

Statistically, reports illustrate that women and girls tend to participate less in disciplines and activities that would support their ability to thrive in a digital world. This is because of a plethora of barriers to entry.

Unavailability of relevant infrastructure

This refers to inadequate infrastructure and/or unavailability of physical infrastructure required to power and run the digital devices. These infrastructures include network coverage and electricity. Women who live in rural and remote areas find it difficult to access the internet due to limited connectivity. In addition to this, public facilities that have otherwise been a solution are often located in areas that women find unsafe or inaccessible, or where social norms and safety concerns curtail freedom of movement (Kuroda et al., 2019).

In other regions or areas, women experience difficulties in obtaining proof of identification which is required to open accounts or register SIM cards.

 

Cost and affordability

Cost of acquiring and cost of usage of mobile phones and other  digital devices still remains one of the greatest barriers for both men and women. These costs, typically, affect women more than men because a woman’s income is generally lower than their counterpart. Why? Women have less financial independence and find it more difficult to access capital than men. It’s a cyclical process that keeps women disadvantaged. It is for these reasons women are more sensitive to price than men when buying devices, and often choose those with poor quality and connectivity (Kuroda et al., 2019).

Usability and Skills

Unfortunately, women lack the skills and confidence to engage with digital technologies effectively. Underlying reasons for usage include poorer access to education among women than men, leading to more illiteracy among women than men. The hurdles to access and use ICT devices and digital technologies, affordability, lack of education and skills and technological literacy, inherent gender based biases, and socio-cultural norms all contribute to gender inequities impacting women in technology. (Squicciarini, 2018; Kuroda et al., 2019)

Digital Inclusion for Women: Closing the Digital Gender Divide

Closing the gap entails putting in place a number of interrelated and complementary policies. It requires awareness and strong cooperation across stakeholders, and tackling gender stereotypes at the very fundamental level. Of all the three components of gender-based digital exclusion, access is the key to unlocking the main door. To begin to close the gap, access to and use of digital technologies must be universal, affordable, unconditional, meaningful and equal. It must meet a woman’s varying circumstance, needs and priorities (Kuroda et al., 2019).

Enhance access to and improve the affordability of digital technologies. In addition to improving infrastructure and structural inequality, bridging the digital gender gap requires making digital technologies more affordable, as cost remains one of the the obstacles for women to access the internet.

Boost skills among women. Women have to be trained and equipped with skills needed to participate and thrive in the digital economy. There’s also a need to educate other figures in society in an effort to transform socio-cultural norms that discriminate against women and their use of digital tools and services.

 

REFERENCES

International Telecommunication Unit. (2021, November 15). Facts and figures 2021. Facts and figures 2021. Retrieved June 29, 2022, from https://www.itu.int/itu-d/reports/statistics/2021/11/15/the-gender-digital-divide/

World Wide Web Foundation. (2020, March 10). The gender gap in internet access: using a women-centred method. World Wide Web Foundation. Retrieved June 29, 2022, from https://webfoundation.org/2020/03/the-gender-gap-in-internet-access-using-a-women-centred-method/

International Telecommunication Unit. (2021, November 15). Facts and figures 2021. Facts and figures 2021. Retrieved June 29, 2022, from https://www.itu.int/itu-d/reports/statistics/2021/11/15/the-gender-digital-divide/

Squicciarini, M. (2018). BRIDGING THE DIGITAL GENDER DIVIDE. OECD. Retrieved June 29, 2022, from https://www.oecd.org/digital/bridging-the-digital-gender-divide.pdf

World Wide Web Foundation. (2020, March 10). The gender gap in internet access: using a women-centred method. World Wide Web Foundation. Retrieved June 29, 2022, from https://webfoundation.org/2020/03/the-gender-gap-in-internet-access-using-a-women-centred-method/

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=40dTgTMrYIc


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