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Deepening our understanding of the digital gender divide: Web Foundation Women’s Rights Online 2019 Household Survey

Web Foundation · October 8, 2019

This post was written by Ingrid Brudvig, Gender Policy Manager; Chenai Chair, Research Manager: Gender and Digital Rights; and Nanjira Sambuli, Senior Policy Manager.

This year, the Women’s Rights Online (WRO) program will be conducting nationally representative household survey research in Colombia, Ghana, Indonesia, and Uganda to deepen our understanding of the digital gender divide. The Women’s Rights Online (WRO) program advocates for better evidence-based policies to address the gendered digital divide. This year’s work serves as an update to the 2015 ground-breaking research, which found that women in urban poor communities across nine cities were 50% less likely to use the internet than men. The Uganda Communications Commission has come on board as well, as a partner supporting this research work. 

The study captures demographics, including the gender non-binary and socio-economic indicators, influencing internet access and digital equality. Together with the surveys, focus group discussions and key informant interviews will provide more context-based understanding of the opportunities and challenges women face in accessing and using the internet in the selected countries. The thematic areas of the survey draw from the REACT framework. These include:

  • Rights:  We analyse the right to information/accessing the internet by assessing individuals’ awareness of rights and determine the way in which users exercise political, civic, social, and economic rights online and offline. Harms encountered from using mobile phones and the internet are investigated, along with concerns around privacy, safety, and gender based violence.
  • Education: We unpack perceptions of requisite digital skills to meaningfully engage and use the web and participate in the digital economy. These come from assessing the level of education, perceived sense of digital skills/literacy, and probing how digital skills are acquired by respondents.
  • Access:  The internet should be affordable and easy to access for everyone. We assess the extent to which individuals are able to access affordable internet by looking at the types of internet access available to respondents (mobile data, bundle size, public WiFi, home internet connections), and how this impacts opportunities for digital participation, engagement, and empowerment. We also assess barriers to increased use and aspirations/ideas of ‘ideal’ internet access.
    • In addition, we bring in the demand side understanding of meaningful connectivity which focuses on breaking down access to look at the type of internet connection, quality, and the types of devices available and their affordability to respondents.
  • Content: Access to relevant content is key to optimal internet use. We investigate perceptions of what constitutes relevant content, including language and platforms where such content is sought. We probe creation and consumption of content, on what sites, on what issues, what formats (text, video, etc). We also assess issues around perceived trustworthiness, misinformation, and online sources of information.
  • Targets: We aim to support governments to champion gender responsive ICT policies through our Women’s Rights Online policy advocacy. Key informant interviews will probe opinions on the extent to which policy has addressed the digital gender gaps and other related issues raised, as a key element of the study.

Our quantitative and qualitative methodological approach allows us to dive deeper into the findings and comparative trends of women’s internet access and use, based on REACT and themes uncovered in the previous 2015 survey. Through this research, we want to understand how people access and use technology and their perceptions around rights online, centering women’s experiences. The research is currently underway with a plan to release the global report in early 2020. These will be followed by a series of short reports for each of the countries covered in the project. 

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