At the Web Foundation, we believe that everyone, everywhere should have the right to access the transformative power of the Web affordably and securely. Yet over 60% of people around the world, most of them women and girls, continue to be excluded. In fact, it is estimated that women’s chances of benefiting from the advantages of ICTs are one-third less than men’s and the gender gap means that 200 million fewer women than men are online.
As we strive towards true gender equality, we know that access to the Internet is critical for women’s empowerment. Benefits of being connected include:
- The possibility for women and girls to build social capital through virtual networks and online associations
- Providing a public space to make important information on women’s rights universally available, supporting women to claim and demand their rights
- Creating new possibilities for education and employment for women and girls in the digital economy
We’re tackling this challenge head on. Through our Women’s Rights Online project, researchers went into the field to ask 7,500 women from urban poor communities in 10 countries about their experiences in accessing and using the Internet. Armed with these results, we’ll be developing specific, actionable, and measurable policy recommendations on how to create a Web for women’s empowerment and close the gender gap in ICT policy. We’ll be teaming up with our partners to deliver these asks to policymakers around the world and demand change.
Of course, this is an area that the Web Foundation and others have been researching for some time. As we work on the next steps base don the research, here are five key findings from previous research efforts, and some possible ways of addressing them.
1. Lip-service without action. The Web Foundation’s 2014 Web Index (research spanning 86 countries) shows that many national ICT plans or strategies include a rhetorical commitment to gender equity, but fail to translate this into concrete, measurable targets backed by resources. Concrete targets for gender equity in ICT access and use should be backed by specific programmes that have been allocated adequate budget, and there should be a plan to collect timely gender-disaggregated data to monitor the target.
2. Access remains unaffordable…especially for women. The Alliance for Affordable Internet’s (A4AI) Affordability Report noted that in 2014 not a single emerging or developing country could claim to meet a benchmark cost of entry-level Internet at less than 5% of GNI per capita. Women, who remain lower earners, are hit the hardest. Low-cost public Internet and community access facilities can help to bridge this affordability gap. Yet, according to the World Economic Forum and the Web Index, the level of access to the Internet in schools is still low, particularly throughout Africa. Specific policies to promote free or low-cost public Internet access, such as budget allocations for Internet access in public libraries, schools and community centers, or provisions for spectrum use by community WiFi options can start to close the gap.
3. Information on Women’s Rights is not yet easily accessible online. Web Index research shows that in a majority of countries, women are not able to easily access user-friendly information on their rights. Complete information about women’s legal rights, reproductive and sexual health rights and services, and services available to victims of gender-based violence should be made available on Web-powered ICT platforms. Information should be regularly updated, easy to find, and available in all local languages on many different channels as appropriate to local contexts including: SMS, IVR telephone hotlines, websites, social media, and community radio broadcasts.
4. Women worldwide are under-represented in technology fields. Globally, women make up only one quarter of scientific researchers. Only 12% of engineers in the world are women. In the UK, just 27% of the ‘digital workforce’ are women, and this figure is falling. It has been suggested that the drop-off rate for more advanced study in these fields amongst women is generally high due to stereotypes, the dominance of men in IT fields, industry’s lack of policies for inclusion of women, and skills gaps in STEM areas. National policies should encourage increased access, training and use of the Internet for women and girls. Women should be empowered and encouraged to pursue careers in technology with concrete targets for gender equity in this area. Scholarships and grant programmes should be made available to support women in science and technology training and research, and ICT-related business training programmes should target women to promote and assist women tech entrepreneurs.
5. Women don’t feel safe on the Web. Women around the world report being bombarded by a culture of misogyny online, including aggressive, often sexualised hate speech, direct threats of violence, harassment, and revenge porn involving use of personal/private information for defamation. Both the Web Index and APC research on government and corporate policies highlight a culture of impunity that currently exists around violence against women online. In 74% of Web Index countries, including many high-income nations, law enforcement agencies and the courts are failing to take appropriate actions in situations where Web-enabled ICTs are used to commit acts of gender-based violence. Legislation that defines and penalises ICT-based and online harassment of women and girls can start to close the gap. This could mean that existing laws on gender-based violence are being effectively applied to ICT-based violence, or that new and specific laws are passed to penalise ICT offences. It is important that these laws adequately protect women without encouraging or promoting excessive censorship.
We are proud that our research has augmented this existing body of work and driven progress. We’re excited for the next phase of our mission. To keep up to date with our progress, please follow us on Twitter or subscribe to our email newsletter to be kept informed. And if you’d like to contact the project manager directly, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.