Women and the Web; a new study carried out by Intel Corporation and Dalberg Global Development Advisors reveals that women and girls are far behind in Internet access.
With over 40 billion Nigerians on the Internet, there are yet no statistics on how many of them are women or girls, but experts say there is a serious gender inequality in Internet access, not only globally, but also in developing countries such as Nigeria.
Because women are commonly the victims of socio-economic, political and cultural deprivation in developing countries, experts naturally assume that sub-Saharan Africa, and particularly the Nigerian Internet population, is male-dominated.
In view of this, the United Nations, Intel and other stakeholders have decried the fact that women have yet to fully benefit from the availability of Internet and more broadly, Information and Communications Technology.
This was the summation of the ‘Women and the Web’ study which was unveiled at the recently concluded WICTAD conference in the United States of America.
The Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, United States Department of State, Ms. Melanne Verveer, in her foreword to the study, a copy of which was made available to our correspondent, said that “men are almost twice as likely to have access to the Internet than women” in Africa.
Women’s lack of access, according to her, is giving rise to a second digital divide, one where women and girls risk being left further behind.
Speaking in the same vein, the President, Intel Foundation and Vice President, Corporate Affairs, Intel Corporation, Ms. Shelley Esque, observes that the Internet could be a great equalizer. She, however, decries that access to the Internet had yet to be equally distributed.
“The Internet gender gap is particularly salient in developing countries, with very real consequences for women and girls, their communities, and their nations,” she says.
To better understand the gap, Esque says Intel Corporation commissioned the ‘Women and the Web’ study and consulted with the US State Department’s Office of Global Women’s Issues, UN Women, and World Pulse, a global network for women.
She says the report found that, on the average, 23 per cent fewer women than men are online in developing countries. This, according to her, represents 200 million fewer women than men who are online today; adding that the size of the gap exceeds 40 per cent in some regions.
Esque says, “We know that many women who use the Internet derive profound benefits through it, including economic and educational opportunities, a community of support and career prospects. As the report indicates, expanding Internet access for women would also provide a significant boost to national income.
“We all benefit when women around the world are informed, connected, educated and able to contribute their maximum toward economic and social development. Intel will continue to take action to bridge this gender gap and empower women through innovation and education. With rapid technological and demographic change afoot, now is the time for cooperative action and impact.”
The Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director, UN Women, Ms. Michelle Bachelet, reiterates that women are fully reaping the rewards of Internet access and ICTs more broadly. Establishing a deeper and broader understanding of women’s participation in the digital revolution is an important step in bringing about change, she asserts.
“Internet access enhances women’s economic empowerment, political participation and social inclusion through initiatives that support increased productivity and income generation, mobilisation and accountability, as well as improved livelihoods and expansion of services,” Bachelet said.
She assures that the current inequality being suffered by women can be redressed by not just improving women’s access to the Internet and the broader range of ICTs, but enhancing their capacities to use and develop them, as well as by developing relevant content that addresses their needs.
She says, “ICTs represent a significant opportunity for advancing gender equality, women’s empowerment and equitable development.
“ICTs and access to the Internet provide basic infrastructure for the 21st century and a set of tools that, when appropriately used, can offer benefits for women in all spheres of life. Given the convergence with traditional media, they also offer a mechanism for combating pervasive gender stereotypes that continue to hold back progress for gender equality everywhere.”
The President, Women in Technology in Nigeria, Mrs. Martha Alade, who was a speaker at the WICTAD conference says if the gap between men and women Internet usage must be bridged, there should be adequate sensitisation on its benefits.
She says the Internet offers potentially transformative benefits, stressing that there are myriad of benefits for the female folk from the Internet, which include access to improved education, job opportunities, health and other services.
She says the Internet provides users more subtle but profound benefits related to empowerment, confidence, a sense of connection and participation, and even a feeling of liberation.
“Once achieved, all these benefits to individual women and girls create positive outcomes for their communities and countries through their impact on economic development, gender equality, and the growth that can result from a greater diversity of ideas and political participation,” she says.
The WITIN president expresses belief that access to the Internet can facilitate specific ends, stressing that Internet access provides more subtle and longer-term benefits around empowerment, such as increased confidence, external validation and expression.
Alade re-affirms WITIN’s commitment to increasing women’s access to and use of ICT through her Grassroots Women Empowerment Through ICT, which was inaugurated in December in 2011.
She says the project is aimed at reaching 10,000 rural women, bridging the businesses of those marginalised online and connecting them to a wider market.
She notes that several women have doubled sales through that project, adding that the scheme will continue to run till December this year.
Alade also emphasised WITIN’s dedication to ensuring that many girls get into the STEM field through the organisation’s career fair and Green ICT project.
According to her, the ‘Women and the Web’ study, aimed at bridging the Internet gender gap represents an opportunity of immense proportions because Internet access is fast becoming an indispensable entrée to a hyper-connected world.
“The Internet’s contribution to global GDP is greater than the GDP of Canada. In India, Internet-based economic activity accounts for more than five per cent of GDP growth. Without access to the Internet, women lack access to its tools, resources and opportunities. And because women are critical collaborators in the effort to achieve development goals such as reduced child malnutrition and mortality, or increased economic growth, this gap disadvantages not just women, but their families, communities and countries and must be reduced,” the report adds.
According to the report, a dedicated global effort to address the Internet gender gap can double the number of women online within three years.
“A dedicated and coordinated effort by public and private sector actors is urgently needed to accelerate the pace of progress in bridging this gap. Without any concerted action, 450 million new female Internet users are projected to come online in the next three years, simply as a result of organic growth in Internet penetration. We believe progress can be accelerated to add 600 million new female Internet users within three years, rather than 450 million, which would double the number of women and girls online,” the report says.