The Internet Gender Gap | Magdy Martinez Soliman
10 Jan 2013
The role of ICTs as development enablers is more widely understood today as access to new technologies, particularly mobile phones, has grown exponentially. Mobile phone subscriptions exceeded six billion by the end of 2012, three-quarters of which were in the developing world. However, women are at a disadvantage: they are 21% less likely to own a mobile phone than men, according to the latest Broadband Commission Report (PDF, 2.4Mb).
Development presents an opportunity to effectively address this and other gender gaps. I am speaking here about sustainable human development, about the ability to make choices and lead a healthy, long and educated life with all that we value.
Let us bear in mind that ICTs are not neutral. Existing gender inequalities, pervasive in many countries, can be exacerbated by ICTs, when unequal access to education for example turns into digital ignorance. Not having female teachers and lack of local security are powerful triggers of girls’ dropout. Women will not be able to access ICT community centers if safety issues are not properly addressed.
We are determined advocates of democratic governance and for us women's access to ICTs is a governance issue. Public policies and the private sector need to address the root causes head-on. Women who lag behind in ICT skills are less employable, face further disadvantage and will end at the lower echelons of the labour market.
ICT solutions comprising the Internet and mobile technologies have great potential to bring vital improvements to the lives of the most vulnerable populations. For example:
• health care delivery through remote consultations
• agricultural development through access to pricing information and extension services;
• education and learning through online resources
• banking services through mobile banking
• participation in decision-making processes by enhancing access to public information
The UN task team on the post-2015 Development Agenda has issued a first report arguing that “Globalization offers great opportunities, but its benefits are at present very unevenly shared.” Part of the inequality is gender-related. Part of the response must be about women’s empowerment. And part of this empowerment can be fostered through ICTs.