Today is International Women’s Day, an occasion to celebrate progress toward gender equity and assess the road still ahead. According to the United Nations, equal access to the Internet and other information and communications technologies is a key gender equality goal. That’s because it offers women an avenue through which they can claim rights and act on social, economic and political opportunities — whether starting businesses, getting education, finding jobs, obtaining health care, finding banking and other financial services, or joining in a wide variety of activities.
Digital gender divide
But in Africa, there’s an online gender gap — and it may actually be widening. On the basis of more than 45,800 face-to-face interviews in 34 African countries between late 2016 and late 2018, Afrobarometer reports that women are less likely than men to own mobile phones, to use them every day, to have phones with access to the Internet, to own computers, to access the Internet regularly, or to get news from the Internet or by social media, as can be seen in the figure below. Gaps range from 11 percentage points in mobile phone ownership and daily use to four points in phone access to the Internet among those who own mobile phones.
Women still lag behind in their ability to access, use and afford digital tools. Cultural barriers and stereotypes can affect their expectations as well, and may lead them toward less rewarding career paths in an increasingly digitalised and interconnected world.
Recognising that gender equality is essential to ensure that men and women can develop their full potential in the digital world, Chile defined “women, SMEs and inclusive growth” and “digital society” as two of its key priorities for its 2019 APEC host year. We contributed to the discussions with a report on the role of education and skills in bridging the digital gender divide, which identifies barriers that prevent women in APEC economies from playing an active role in the digital revolution, as well as key areas for policy action.
Some still do not have mobile phones, and even phone owners struggle with connectivity and costs; they also face security issues
In some emerging economies, many do not own – or even share – mobile phones
As ownership of mobile phones, especially smartphones, spreads rapidly across the globe, there are still notable numbers of people in emerging economies who do not own a mobile phone, or who share one with others. A Pew Research Center survey in 11 emerging economies finds that a median of 6% of adults do not use phones at all, and a median of 7% do not own phones but instead borrow them from others. The mobile divides are most pronounced in Venezuela (32%), India (30%) and the Philippines (27%), countries where about three-in-ten adults do not own a mobile phone.
Least developed countries (LDCs), landlocked developing countries (LLDCs) and small island developing states (SIDS)’ constitute 91 of the world’s most vulnerable nations. Some of them lag significantly behind in terms of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
As part of the ongoing global efforts to help countries implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, it is necessary to pay particular attention to these groups of countries.
World leaders are to pledge to shape the technological revolution sweeping through Africa by acting to lift the threat of 400 million predominantly rural women being excluded from digital financial services.
G7 finance ministers meeting in France are to endorse a paper from the Gates Foundation saying there is a serious risk that digital technology and mobile banking will bypass millions of women in Africa, leaving them disempowered for a generation.
While much has been written about bridging the digital chasm and connecting the next billion to the Internet, it is slow going to make it happen. Currently, 3.4 billion people do not have access to the Internet and the bulk of them live in developing countries and rural areas. In these underserved areas, women are far less likely to be connected to the Internet than men – in low and middle income countries, women are 10% less likely to own a mobile phone than men and are 26% less likely to use mobile Internet. This all means that the economic opportunities and human connections provided by the Internet are not readily available to the people who need it the most.
I believe that solving this problem requires us to put local people and their needs, as well as the tools for sustainable, locally driven progress at the center of the plan. This is why I co-founded the People-Centered Internet (PCI) and why I am such a fan of the work that Steve Huter and the Network Startup Resource Center (NSRC) at the University of Oregon do.
Publics see mobile phones and social media bringing certain benefits to them and their societies. But these views are paired with widespread concerns about their impact on children
After more than a decade of studying the spread and impact of digital life in the United States, Pew Research Center has intensified its exploration of the impact of online connectivity among populations in emerging economies – where the prospect of swift and encompassing cultural change propelled by digital devices might be even more dramatic than the effects felt in developed societies.
Surveys conducted in 11 emerging and developing countries across four global regions find that the vast majority of adults in these countries own – or have access to – a mobile phone of some kind.1 And these mobile phones are not simply basic devices with little more than voice and texting capacity: A median of 53% across these nations now have access to a smartphone capable of accessing the internet and running apps.
After a tornado slammed Havana in late January, Mijail Ramirez complained on Twitter that authorities were threatening to evict him from his damaged home. A week later he said the government had changed its mind and would help him rebuild the house.
Jorge Luis Leon used the official Twitter account of a Cuban vice president to request that hospital waiting rooms have seating for family members, while a group of young people launched “Sube,” a ride-hailing app for the aging American sedans that ply the streets of Havana.
In the 2 1/2 months since Cuba allowed its citizens internet access via cellphones, fast-moving changes are subtle but palpable as Cubans challenge government officials online, post photos of filthy school bathrooms and drag what was one of the world’s least-connected countries into the digital age. Communist authorities, in turn, are having to learn how to deal with more visible pressure coming from outside of party-controlled popular and neighborhood committees.
Parts of the world will be excluded from the internet for decades to come without major efforts to boost education, online literacy and broadband infrastructure, experts have warned.
While half the world’s population now uses the internet, a desperate lack of skills and stagnant investment mean the UN’s goal of universal access, defined as 90% of people being online, may not be reached until 2050 or later, they said.
If this country really has ambitions of having a 5G revolution like the one being talked about the Consumer Electronics Show this week, we need something else first.
Fiber optic connections that reach everyone.
“What it is is synthetic glass, in which the manufactured process is so carefully controlled that light can travel through that glass for many dozens of miles without using any of the signal that it’s carrying,” says Susan Crawford, a professor at Harvard Law School and the author of “Fiber: The Coming Tech Revolution – and Why America Might Miss it.”
And here’s what she means when she says we might miss it: Of the 119 million households in the United States, only about 10 million have access to fiber connections. China, on the other hand, has a goal of connecting 300 million of its 455 million households to cheap, high capacity fiber by 2020.