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Women’s Rights Online: closing the digital gender gap for a more equal world

October 12, 2020

The internet has long been celebrated as a force for greater equality — breaking down barriers for those previously held back by their geography, wealth, race, class and gender. However, longstanding inequalities in access to, and use of, the internet holds back its egalitarian promise.

This report provides a global snapshot of the state of digital gender inequality and finds that even where women are closing the gap on basic internet access, they face a multitude of additional barriers to using the internet and fully participating online.

Based on focus groups, interviews and a survey of almost 10,000 women and men across four countries — Colombia, Ghana, Indonesia and Uganda — the report examines these digital gender inequalities, going beyond basic internet access to look also at the quality of access people have, how they use the internet, and additional barriers to access.

Key Findings

  • Promising results on basic access: Three of the four countries studied had relatively narrow gender divides in internet access, although in Uganda men remain 43% more likely to be online than women. Data shows that globally men remain 21% more likely to be online, rising to 52% in least developed countries.
  • A hidden digital gender divide: Using meaningful connectivity as a more comprehensive measure of the quality of access — taking into account speeds, data allowance, device type and regular access — gender gaps were far larger. In Colombia, which has a 1% gender gap in basic access, the meaningful connectivity gap is 17%.
  • Skills are a barrier to access: A lack of skills emerged as the biggest factor keeping women offline. 50% of women in rural areas said they didn’t use the internet because they don’t know how. 45% of women in urban areas said the same.
  • Women create less content: When women do get online, they are less likely to create certain types of content. Men are 29% more likely than women to post comments about political, social or economic issues, and 29% more likely to sell or advertise a product or service online.
  • Greater concerns over privacy: Across a range of personal data categories, women are more concerned about their privacy than men. Focus group participants shared concerns about having their personal data misused, including in relation to online harassment and abuse.
  • Less trust in online companies. Women were also more skeptical about tech companies using their data responsibly. 54% of female respondents said they would not allow companies to use any of their data, compared with 47% of men.

Closing the digital gender gap for a more equal world

We urgently need to close the digital gender divide and make sure that women and girls are able to fully participate online without fear for their safety or their rights. Until we do, the internet will continue to work against progress on gender equality.

Digital technologies will not automatically empower marginalised people and break traditional power structures without long term investment and commitment to overcome existing inequalities online. This report highlights key areas, with specific steps, that governments and companies must focus on to enable a truly gender-inclusive digital world:

  1. Collect and publish gender data in the technology sector
  2. Adopt Meaningful Connectivity as the target for internet use and tackle the gender gap
  3. Promote digital skills and ICT education for women and girls
  4. Support women’s participation in technology development, local content creation and ICT innovation
  5. Safeguard the online privacy of women and girls

To see the full findings and detailed policy recommendations, read the global report.

Report illustrations by Karen Vermeulen.

The Executive Summary is available in Igbo, with thanks to John Chidi Ogburuobi for the translation and Blossom Ozurumba and Nnenna Nwakanma for reviewing.

The text of this research page is available in:

  • Yorùbá, with thanks to Adéṣínà Ayẹni for the translation and Ridwan Rasheed and Semiat Olúfúnkẹ́ Tiamiyu for reviewing
  • Hausa, with thanks to Fatumah Batula for the translation and Sadya Abba Gambo for reviewing