The world is at the beginning of a connectivity revolution that is rapidly turning internet access into a critical determinant of individuals’ human and social capital and earning power. As the inventor of the web and Web Foundation founder Sir Tim Berners-Lee put it: “The web is vital to democracy, [and] a public resource on which people, businesses, communities and governments depend.”
Despite the importance of achieving all of the internet, for all of the people, all of the time, research shows that women are far less likely to benefit from the empowering potential of the web — if they are connected at all. Despite what appears to be growing public attention around this issue, recent research from the ITU shows that the global gender gap in internet access has actually worsened in recent years, widening from 11% in 2013 to 12% in 2016.
Our Women’s Rights Online (WRO) household survey research zoomed in on urban poor communities to find out more about the digital gender divide. Even in cities that are often praised for their digital development and ICT innovation, poor women are 50% less likely than men to have access to the internet, and 30-50% less likely than men to use the internet to increase their income or participate in public life.
Ignoring the ICT gender gap now will entrench inequalities, and will make progress toward reversing inequality painfully slow — with massive economic and social costs. The good news is that governments can avoid this scenario by putting gender front and centre of their ICT policy agendas, now.
Our WRO network partners are supporting stakeholders to do just that — working to drive policy change that prioritises gender and moves the needle towards full digital inclusion and gender equality both online and offline. The member organisations of the WRO network are working across 15+ low- and middle-income countries to highlight research and to support both grassroots and high-level advocacy efforts centred around the need for governments to REACT — focusing on rights, education, access, content and gender equality targets.
Check out this snapshot of the fantastic Women’s Rights Online projects underway around the world.