Gender inequality online is 'expensive for all of us,' says web inventor's foundation

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Women are less likely to have access to the Internet than men in low- and middle-income countries.

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it’s part of the story crossing the broadband divide, Nerdshala’s coverage of how the country is working toward universalizing broadband access.

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When women and girls do not have access to the internet, it costs governments a lot of money. How much money, exactly, has so far only been conjectured.

New research released Monday by Tim Berners-Lee’s Web Foundation and its subsidiary, the Alliance for Affordable Internet, calculates that over the past 10 years, 32 low- and middle-income countries have helped more women get online. caused a loss of $1 trillion. Some of those countries include India, Nigeria, and the Philippines.

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The digital divide is a global problem, but there are still isolated groups that are less likely to have access to the Internet. These groups may be defined by their geography, their gender, their race, or all three. Women in low- and middle-income countries are less likely to use the Internet than their male counterparts.

“This report shows just how costly gender inequality is for all of us,” said Bouthina Gurmazzi, director of digital development for the World Bank, in a statement. “For governments looking to build a resilient economy as part of their COVID-19 recovery plans, closing the digital gender gap should be one of the top priorities.”

In 32 countries the Web Foundation observed in its report, just over a third of women had access to the Internet, compared to nearly half of men. And this divide doesn’t seem to close over time, even as digital connectivity plays an increasingly central role in our lives. The coronavirus pandemic has shown how important it is to have access to the Internet at home, for everything from remote school to health care. The Web Foundation’s research says that over the past decade, the gap between the number of women and men online has dropped by only half a percent.

The lack of internet for women means that many are out of education and employment opportunities, which often places them in poverty or other dangerous situations without health care or other support. That alone should be enough for governments to try to close that gender divide, but that’s not always the case.

Inclusive Broadband Policies for Economic Gains

With its new report, the Web Foundation is quantifying the cost of the digital gender divide in economic terms, in the hope that governments will need to take the problem seriously. According to the report’s calculations, closing the digital gender gap could help generate an attractive $524 billion for the economies of the countries studied over the next five years.

“Not only is this good social policy, but it’s also good economics… to include women and girls in the online world,” Teddy Woodhouse, senior research manager at the Webb Foundation, said in an interview. For them, the report’s big test will be whether the information wakes up new allies and helps move the needle in closing the digital gender gap. “It’s really trying to be quite practical and thinking about how we can make a case for change,” he said.

Focusing on the broader financial implications is also one way to ensure that the digital gender divide is not dismissed by those in power, as gender equality debates often are, said Anna, one of the report’s co-authors. Maria Rodriguez Pulgarin said.

“Sometimes we have gender discussions with politicians who are already working on gender equality, closing the digital gender divide and all that,” she said. “But I think we want to send the message that it will affect everyone.”

One of the main problems the research identified as preventing women from returning to the Internet is the lack of gender-responsive broadband policy – ​​a clear goal to ensure women’s Internet access.

Governments interested in bridging the digital gender divide have several areas to choose from, from which they implement policy, including rights, education, access and content. Woodhouse pointed to Costa Rica as an example of a country that has implemented such measures by specifically setting goals to bring more women into STEM.

Every year Costa Rica publishes a report on how it is meeting the goals. “That’s only possible if you’re setting those indicators in the first place,” Woodhouse said. This is an example of how creating a system of accountability can be a best practice.

Internet access beyond binary

The Web Foundation’s research on gender has focused on traditional male-female lines and does not include the experiences of trans or non-binary citizens. The “critical problem” with expanding the research, Woodhouse said, is data availability. Even receiving data that is broken down enough to show a discrepancy between the experience of cisgender men and women (people whose personal identity and gender match their birth sex), he said .

“Then to get data that differs even more widely, there is essentially none in most contexts, and especially in the economic context we are looking at low- and middle-income countries,” he said. In some countries, being transgender is illegal and punishable by jail time or other serious measures, making tracking of different genders impossible.

The lack of data is something Woodhouse’s hopes will change. But, he said, the overall goal of the research remains the same.

The aim is that we will “look less at the idea that gender should predetermine what rights someone should have, what kind of experiences they should have, what kind of access to the Internet,” Woodhouse said. “It’s going to be a net benefit for everyone.”

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