Washington- With the growing importance of the internet, and specifically, social media, as a mobilization tool, a method for raising awareness and rapid dissemination of information, and a means for self-education, this important tool of the future has not yet become universally available. The United Nations Broadband Commission Working Group has found massive gaps in internet usage, particularly between genders.
The report has found that over 200 million more men have access to the Internet than women. This is especially prevalent in areas of the world where internet access is scarce.
41% of men worldwide are connected to the internet, as opposed to 37% of women. The differences are even more stark based on access to technology. In the ‘developed’ world, or countries with wide-reaching access to the internet, 80% of men are online, and 74% of women. In the ‘developing’ world, only 33% of men are connected and 29% of women.
There are several explanations for the significant gender gaps in internet usage across the globe. One particular reason stands out, however—the online harassment and threats frequently aimed towards women. Earlier this year, Facebook took the initiative to crack down on online sexual harassment and content on their website that “targets women with images and content that threatens or incites gender-based violence or hate.”
Gender gap in Arab countries
The gender gap in Internet services is most significant in major Arab countries. According to the report, higher percentages of men in Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and Jordan use ecommerce services than women. In Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, no fewer than 62% of men use smart phones. Among those same countries, Morocco’s 38% of females using smart phones is the highest rate, according to the report.
Why does this matter? Well for one thing, the Internet, as a concept, is genderless, not gender-specific. “Although the technology itself does not innately discriminate, the human context of its usage and application is not always so even-handed. Women face social barriers that make access more challenging, whether they be lower wages, lower levels of education, or cultural norms. And, when they do manage to get connected, they may find content and services that are not as relevant to their lives, as these are mostly being produced by men. Even worse, women may face harassment or other safety issues online.”
Erasing the gender gap in an area as accessible [accessible in the sense that anyone, man or woman, has the ability to use the internet] as internet connectivity is a matter of fairness and opportunity in the big-picture of the developing world. In fact, a larger presence of women online could have a drastic global economic impact.
“The World Bank (2009) estimates that every 10% increase in access to broadband results in 1.38% growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for developing countries,” the report says. “Bringing women online can boost GDP — Intel (2013) estimates that bringing 600 million additional women and girls online could boost global GDP by up to US$13-18 billion.”
Broadening access of the internet to include women isn’t just so that more people can go on Facebook. By 2015 90% of formal employment across all sectors will require tech skills. However, in developing countries, women are disproportionately affected by the affordability of technology; “thus, along with the highest costs relative to income, sub-Saharan Africa also suffers the highest gender gap when it comes to Internet access.”
Bridging the gender gap is bigger than just sitting women down in front of a computer and expecting a significant increase in numbers. Government and corporate broadband policy has its due impact in gender inequality online, particularly as follows, according to the UN report:
• Many States do not yet treat affordable, pervasive/ubiquitous access as a basic right for the entire population, especially including women.
• Many States are not yet proactive in implementing broadband development and policies that promote the coordination of efforts among the public sector, businesses and civil society.
• Most broadband policies omit gender (aside from identifying women as an untapped market
• There is little investment to enlarge the social impact of the Internet, especially in terms of awareness-raising and building information literacy, particularly amongst more excluded members of society.
• There is little consideration of the digital gender gap between households with male heads and households with female heads. Digital literacy programs targeted to this segment should take into account the particular characteristics of households with female heads and their specific needs, mainly caused by lower income that hinders the purchase of equipment and payment of broadband fees.
Though it seems like an additional hurdle for women to overcome, bridging the gender gap in internet access is less symbolic and more practical than many other initiatives. Providing access for all to the internet creates jobs, fills jobs, educates, raises awareness, and, as a result, creates a global population in touch with one another in a positive way.