In a recent study by commissioned by Intel Corporation, several questions such as “What is the size of the Internet gap?”, “What prevents women from accessing the Internet?” were asked in order to find out more about the Internet gender gap in developing countries and what the potential benefits of bridging the gap will bring.
Based on interviews and surveys of 2,200 women in developing countries, as well as interviews with experts and a review of existing literature, this report found that, on average, 23% fewer women than men are online in developing countries. The result also lead to a call for action By Intel to double the number of women online within three years from 600 million to 1.2 billion.
This is because it is believed that by closing this Internet gender gap, about 180 million would improve their ability to generate income, nearly 500 million would improve their education, and over 500 million would feel they had greater freedom as a result of being online.
If this happens, market opportunities of US$50 to 70 billion in new sales of platforms and data plans would also open up and contribute to an estimated US$13 to 18 billion of annual GDP across 144 developing countries.
Although doubling the number of women online within three years is an eminently achievable goal, it cannot be done alone. Capturing that opportunity will require commitments to action across the private, public and civil society sectors.
This is because there are many barriers that women face other than the acquisition of knowledge of the Internet alone. 25% of women surveyed did not believe that they needed the Internet, while 70% of them cited that cost was the main reason that they were not online.
Gender-based barriers are real. Even if some women did believe that the Internet would be useful for them, their families would disapprove. Gender-based barriers like this range from internalized gender norms to outright prohibition, and their effects vary across regions and households. In some communities, gender norms restrict women from walking on the street— and certainly from visiting cybercafés that may be the only means of accessing a computer.
In other cases where women do not face gender-based barriers, there is also no direct incentive for them to go online. 1 in 3 of non-users have a desktop at home while 90% of them own a mobile phone. These characteristics define users who have already progressed past some of the most challenging barriers to access, such as access and affordability, and may need only one last encouragement to join the online world.
The findings compliments Google’s efforts to help “the next billion” from the emerging markets embrace the Internet as a path toward greater economic, social and cultural vitality. However, even with offerings such as Free Zone powered by Google, will the Internet gender gap be bridged? Other than creating innovative and developing low-costs platforms, there needs to be more efforts put into supporting the piloting of programs that address women-specific needs, such as for “safe” access points like women-only Internet cafes. Stakeholders should also start thinking about how to create safe communities to teach women and girls digital and information literacy .
The detailed report goes on to talk about how the Internet can benefit women, how to overcome gender barriers to the Internet and also elaborates on the evolution and expansion of women’s online engagement in developing countries. For a brief summary of the survey findings, take a look at the infographic below.