What are the policy steps that countries can take to close the digital gender gap and ensure full digital inclusion? Rapid progress is possible if policymakers take immediate action to REACT — that is, to focus on Rights, Education, Access, Content, and Targets — to close the gender digital divide:
Protect and enhance everyone’s rights online. The web can’t serve as an empowering space unless we know everyone’s rights will be protected online. We must ensure the web is a safe space for women and protect fundamental rights such as freedom of speech and privacy, and that policy, legislative, and regulatory processes uphold digital rights.
Use education to equip everyone – especially women – with the skills they need to access and use the web effectively. Our research shows that education is the most powerful tool we have to have close this gap. We must include digital skills in primary and secondary school curricula in every country around the world, especially targeted at girls; we must also take steps to eradicate the gender gap in access to higher and tertiary education by ensuring that women have equal access to tertiary education opportunities.
Deliver affordable — or free — access to an open web. Affordability remains a major obstacle to universal internet access across the globe; women, on average, earn less than men, resulting in a higher real cost to connect. Countries must adopt and work towards a more ambitious ‘1 for 2’ affordability target of – 1GB of data monthly for less than 2% of monthly income. Public access programmes that offer free or subsidised ways to connect in public spaces will enable those that still might not be able to afford a connection, even once prices have reduced, to come online.
Ensure relevant and empowering content for women is available and used. Unless content on the web is valuable and empowering, people simply won’t use it. Governments can play an important role here both by delivering vital services online and ensuring important content is available in local languages. As content and service delivery providers, governments must ensure that critical government content relevant to women, including information on sexual and reproductive health, legal rights, and digital financial services, is readily available online in local languages.
Set and measure concrete gender-equity targets. We want every country in the world to update their connectivity targets as mandated by the SDGs, including clearly laying out how they will close the gender gap and for data on progress towards these targets to be regularly published in open formats so that everyone can keep tabs on progress and look for creative solutions.