Gender inequality online is ‘expensive for all of us,’ says web inventor’s foundation


In low- and middle-income countries, women are less likely to access the Internet than men.

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This story is part of Cross broadband divide, CNET coverage of how the country is working to make broadband access universal.

If women and girls do not have access to the Internet, the government will incur significant costs. To be precise, only how much money has been estimated so far.

New study published on Monday Tim Berners-LeeWeb Foundation and its subsidiary Alliance for Affordable Internet have calculated that in the last decade, 32 low- and middle-income countries have lost $ 1 trillion because they did not help more women go online. Some of those countries include India, Nigeria and the Philippines.

The digital divide is a global issue, but there are still individual groups that are unlikely to have access to the Internet. These groups can be defined by geography, gender, and group. Race, Or all three. Women in low- and middle-income countries are even less likely to access the Internet than men.

“This report reveals how high gender inequality is for all of us,” said Boutheina Guermazi, director of digital development at the World Bank, in a statement. “Creating the digital gender gap must be one of the top priorities for governments seeking to build a resilient economy as part of their COVID-19 recovery program.”

In the 32 countries reported by the Web Foundation, just over one-third of women had access to the Internet, compared to almost half of men. And even though digital connectivity plays an increasingly central role in our lives, this gap does not seem to close over time. The coronavirus pandemic shows how important it is to have access to the Internet at home, from remote schools to medical care. In the last decade, the difference between the numbers of women and men online has decreased by only 0.5 percentage points, according to a Web Foundation survey.

The lack of access to the Internet by women means that many women are excluded from education and employment opportunities and are placed in poverty and other dangerous situations without access to medical or other assistance. Often. That should be enough for the government to try to close that gender gap, but it is not always the case.

Comprehensive broadband policy for economic gain

In a new report, the Web Foundation explains the cost of digital gender inequality from a tough economic perspective. This hopes that the government needs to take the issue seriously. The report calculates that closing the digital gender gap over the next five years can generate $ 524 billion that is attractive to the economies of the countries surveyed.

“Including women and girls in the online world is not only good social policy, but also financially good,” said Teddy Woodhouse, senior research manager at Web Foundation’s access and affordability, in an interview. I am. For him, a big test of the report is whether the information helps awaken new allies and move the needle to close the digital gender gap. “It’s really very practical and I’m trying to figure out how to build a case of change,” he said.

Focusing on a wide range of economic implications is also a way to prevent digital gender inequality from being rejected by those in power, as gender equality debates often take place, Ana Maria, one of the co-authors of the report. Rodriguez Purgarin added.

“Our gender discussions can be held with politicians who are already working on gender equality, closing digital gender inequality,” she said. “But I want to convey the message that this affects everyone.”

One of the main issues that the survey identified as preventing women from accessing the Internet is the lack of gender-sensitive broadband policies. This is a clear goal for women to have access to the internet.

Governments interested in narrowing the digital gender gap have many areas to choose from, such as rights, education, access, and content, where they implement their policies. Woodhouse pointed to Costa Rica as an example of a country that has implemented such measures by setting specific goals for more women to participate in STEM.

Costa Rica publishes an annual report on how it achieves its goals. “It’s only possible if you’ve set these metrics in the first place,” says Woodhouse. This is an example of how creating an accountable system can be a best practice.

Internet access beyond binary

The Web Foundation’s research on gender focuses on the traditional male and female lines and does not incorporate the experience of transgender or non-binary citizens. According to Woodhouse, the “critical issue” in expanding research is data availability. He added that it is even difficult to obtain data that is sufficiently decomposed to show a discrepancy in the experience of cisgender men and women (people whose personal identity and gender match their birth gender). ..

“Then, getting more comprehensively decomposed data is essentially non-existent in most situations, especially in the economic situation of the low- and middle-income countries we see,” he said. rice field. In some countries it is illegal to be transgender and punishable by imprisonment or other serious measures, making it impossible to track different genders.

The lack of data is what Woodhouse wants to change. However, he added that the overall goals of the study remain the same.

“The goal is to reduce the belief that gender should predetermine the rights someone should have, the experience they should have, and the type of access to the Internet,” Woodhouse said. “It will be a net benefit for everyone.”

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