On this, International Women’s Day, the World Wide Web Foundation and our Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) initiative are pleased to announce a new partnership with UN Women to drive policy commitments towards closing the gender gap in ICT and achieving universal and affordable access to the Internet. The partnership follows from our work with UN Women as an A4AI Advisory Council member.
The recently agreed Sustainable Development Goals include pledges to achieve gender equity in access to basic services, including technology, by 2030; and provide universal and affordable Internet access in least developed countries by 2020. Moreover, the gender Goal specifies the use of ICTs as a key means of realising gender equality and women’s empowerment. These build on commitments on gender and ICT in other frameworks such as the Beijing Platform for Action.
These are ambitious goals given that today almost 60% of the world’s population is still not connected, and the majority of the unconnected are women.
In our Women’s Rights Online survey last year, we interviewed 7,500 women from poor urban areas in 10 countries. The results were alarming. Not only were women 50% less likely than men to access the Internet at all, but only a small minority of women who are online are experiencing empowerment gains. Controlling for other variables, women are 25% less likely to use the Internet for job-seeking than men, and half as likely as men to express controversial views online.
Although nearly every woman we surveyed owned or had access to a phone, the ICT revolution is not yet transforming their lives. The immediate reasons are that they lack confidence, time and skills; do not find content relevant to their needs; and – critically – cannot afford the prohibitive cost of mobile data.
Digging deeper, our findings suggest that online barriers – such as women’s self-perceived lack of digital know-how – arise in part from offline discrimination facing women in education, employment, domestic life, and participation in civic affairs. To unlock technology’s potential to empower women, we must step up efforts to end these fundamental inequalities. At the same time, national ICT plans and donor aid strategies must include ambitious targets and programmes specifically designed to close gender and poverty gaps in Internet access, use and empowerment. Our recently released A4AI Affordability Report includes a checklist and key policy recommendations for governments to develop gender responsive ICT policy and broadband plans to close gender and affordability gaps in Internet access.
The Web Foundation, A4AI and UN Women are working together to ensure such steps are taken as soon as possible, and to monitor progress through on-the-ground research and through the integration of gender advocates and perspectives in national ICT policy coalitions.
We’re creating a unique Scorecard tool to find out more about how countries measure up in their efforts to close the gender gap in ICT. In addition to the Scorecard, our Women’s Rights Online partners are going back to the women and communities surveyed to find out more about the web they want, and what changes would provide the most social, economic and political benefit to them. This will contribute to the development of a toolkit on implementation of the SDG gender commitments through ICTs.
We’re also teaming up with the Kofi Annan Centre of Excellence (KACE), the African Development Bank and women leaders in Africa working in technology and ICT policy and we’ll be hosting our first annual Summit on African Women and Girls in Technology in September in Accra, Ghana. Stay tuned for more details soon.
Technology allows people to gain their own voice in civic and political life, increase their economic autonomy, and experience a sense of independence as well as solidarity. It is intolerable and unjust that in much of the world, these opportunities are flowing largely to men. Through our partnership with UN Women we look forward to changing that, so that women as well as men can expand their voices and choices through technology.