This is a guest post from Gisela Pérez de Acha, Public Policy Officer at Derechos Digitales.
True access to the internet exists when it serves as a tool to learn and acquire knowledge; when, as women, we can pay for connectivity without abandoning other priorities; if it has interesting and relevant content; if we can produce and co-create what we read and see; if the internet is a safe space to share and disagree, in community and in our language.
With the support of the Web Foundation, Derechos Digitales recently launched new research on the state of the digital gender gap in Mexico. While the official statistics show that 51.5% of women in Mexico are connected, the definitions under which this data is built hide the reality facing a majority of women — particularly those with less income and those living in rural areas.
The agency responsible for measuring internet access in Mexico defines “access” as a “household connection”. But for us, that is just one layer of access. True access to the internet exists when it serves as a tool to learn and acquire knowledge; when, as women, we can pay for connectivity without abandoning other priorities; if it has interesting and relevant content; if we can produce and co-create what we read and see; if the internet is a safe space to share and disagree, in our community and in our language. Failure to incorporate these factors into our national measure of internet access means we do not have a true understanding of internet access and use for women in Mexico.
Furthermore, data collection methodologies do not incorporate a gender perspective. As a result, the public policies that emerge from these statistics ignore the reality of women across the country, and especially those in rural or indigenous areas. No matter what the figures say, the digital divide still exists. As Lulú Barrera of Luchadoras highlights, “Statistics only measure home connectivity, but if a woman lives violence in her house and the only cell phone to connect belongs to the husband that mistreats her, she can not access the internet to find a solution. Then we have a problem.” Paulina Gutiérrez of Article 19 also notes that in communities like Tabasco and Chiapas “having a device or having access to a technological tool with connectivity does not mean that there is substantial access”. If the inequality is structural, little can change.
Women have less access for many reasons, ranging from macho stereotypes that women should not use the internet and self-censorship that results from online gender-based violence, to a lack of time for internet use resulting from the triple burden of work on women (i.e., domestic work, childcare, and professional work), and a diminished ability to pay for internet access as a result of the gender wage gap. Given all these issues, it is perhaps not surprising that there are very few women in the technology field in Mexico — at the highest level of the National System of Researchers (SNI), just 22% were women in 2012. It is considered “something for boys”.
For all the above, we cannot say that the revolution in information and communication technologies is transforming the lives of most women. The solutions have to be broad, ranging from fighting gender violence (online and offline) to redefining the gender stereotypes that socially encode us.
The gender digital divide will not be closed as long as we continue to address it in separate ‘offline’ and ‘online’ boxes. We must tackle it through progress on several fronts at once. With this in mind, we propose five things:
- Evaluate and reform México Conectado — the programme to expand connectivity in Mexico — from a gender perspective;
- End gender violence on digital platforms;
- Emphasise the construction and modernisation of internet infrastructure and enable the legal use of community networks;
- Prioritise digital education in all schools and communities; and
- Create educational programmes so that more women can participate in technology.
Digital equality is fundamental to realise the important potential benefits that the internet can bring to women, their communities, and the economy in general. We hope this research provides a step forward toward measuring and taking action to close the digital divide.
To learn more:
- Review the Digital Gender Gap Audit for Mexico (English | Spanish)
- Read the full report What is Access? Why are Women Less Connected? (English | Spanish)
Derechos Digitales is an independent, not-for-profit NGO, whose mission is to defend and promote human rights in the digital environment, and is part of the Women’s Rights Online network.