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From L to R: Sonia Jorge (A4AI), Ed Royce (US Congress), Joyce Warner (IREX), Geena Davis (Geena Davis Institute)

From L to R: Sonia Jorge (A4AI), Ed Royce (US Congress), Joyce Warner (IREX), Geena Davis (Geena Davis Institute)

Increasing Women’s Online Access, Driving Development

Web Foundation · November 24, 2015

This post is adapted from one which originally appeared on the Alliance for Affordable Internet site.

Last week, our Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) initiative had the opportunity to address the United States Congress on the importance of increasing women’s access to technology across the globe. On Tuesday, November 17, A4AI Executive Director Sonia Jorge joined a distinguished panel of witnesses — including Joyce Warner, IREX Senior Vice President and Chief of Staff, and Geena Davis, Academy Award-winning actress and Founder and Chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media — at a hearing convened by the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs on “Women and Technology: Increasing Opportunity and Driving International Development”.

Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) set the framework for the hearing in his opening statement: over 4 billion people lack access to the Internet, most of whom are female, and nearly all of whom are in the developing world. Royce explained that excluding women from “one of the most powerful drivers of personal and economic opportunity of all time” is a “big mistake” — one that not only holds back women, but also families, communities, states, and institutions. What, then, can the United States and the international community do to close the gender digital divide and enable women to take advantage of this revolutionary technology?

Witness testimony centered around this critical question, and looked both at the current barriers to increasing women’s access to technology, as well as concrete steps that the US can take to help overcome these obstacles across the globe.

What were A4AI’s top takeaways from the event?

  • Closing the gender digital divide is critical to achieving all 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals. All three witnesses noted the significant potential of increased broadband access to drive economic and social development and the risks associated with failing to have a more inclusive tech environment.
  • Excluding women from the technology revolution is a costly mistake. Failure to increase women’s access to and use of technology not only stunts economic growth — one study estimates that bringing an additional 600 million women online could contribute $18 billion to annual GDP in the developing world — but also holds back social development, given women’s roles as community leaders and infomediaries. Increasing women’s digital skills and ability to teach these digital skills to others would empower entire communities.
  • Affordability is a major obstacle to access. Women, on average, earn 30-50% less than men and, as a result, face a higher cost to connect; reducing the price of a basic broadband connection and closing the gender pay gap are both critical to enabling access and use.
  • But affordability is not the only obstacle. Women’s access to broadband and technology is also hindered bya lack of knowledge and digital skills. The definition of “literacy” should be expanded to include “digital literacy”, and digital skills training must be incorporated into primary and secondary school curricula.
  • Understanding the barriers faced by women is critical to supporting and developing policies to address the affordability, skills, and relevant content development challenges. Overcoming these obstacles will be critical to closing the gender digital divide around the world. US foreign policy and foreign aid programmes should support these efforts with the goal of eliminating gender-based inequalities offline and online.

You can watch video of the hearing testimony and questions, and read the full written statement that A4AI submitted to the Committee to learn more about why reducing broadband prices and closing the gender digital divide are critical to international development, and how the US can support these goals.

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