Digital gender gap: men 50% more likely to be online in some countries – report

Failure to ensure women have equal access to the internet hampering developing economies and fuelling gender inequality

A failure to ensure women have equal access to the internet has cost low-income countries $1tn (£730bn) over the past decade and could mean an additional loss of $500bn by 2025 if governments don’t take action, according to new research.

Last year, governments in 32 countries, including India, Egypt and Nigeria, lost an estimated $126bn in gross domestic product because women were unable to contribute to the digital economy.

The digital gender gap – the difference between the number of women and men who can access the internet – cost $24bn in lost tax revenues in 2020, which could have been invested in health, education and housing, said the report.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, former executive director of UN Women and founder of the Umlambo Foundation, said: “We will not achieve gender equality until we eliminate this digital gap that keeps so many women offline and away from the opportunities the internet provides.”

The study, conducted by the World Wide Web Foundation and the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI), looked at 32 low- and lower-middle-income countries, where the gender gap is often greatest.

In those countries, a third of women were connected to the internet compared with almost half of men. The digital gender gap has barely improved since 2011, dropping just half a percentage point from 30.9% to 30.4%. Globally, men are 21% more likely to be online than women, rising to 52% in the least developed countries, said the report.

Women with tablets in Ghatagaon, a town in Odisha, India.
Women with tablets in Ghatagaon, a town in Odisha, India. ‘We will not achieve gender equality until we eliminate this digital gap,’ says Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Umlambo Foundation. Photograph: Amrit Dhillon

Various barriers prevent women and girls from going online, including expensive handsets and data tariffs, social norms that discourage women and girls from being online, fears around privacy, safety, and security and a lack of money – globally, women earn around 77 cents for each dollar a man earns.

Few governments have implemented specific policies to give women easier access to the internet, added the report. According to the A4AI’s 2020 Affordability Report, more than 40% of countries had no meaningful policies or programmes to expand women’s access to the internet.

Catherine Adeya, director of research at the World Wide Web Foundation, said: “As the internet becomes a more potent enabler for education, business, and community mobilisation, a failure to deliver access for all means failing to realise everyone’s potential to contribute.”

As well as limiting opportunities for women and girls, digital exclusion of women has broader societal and economic impacts that affect everyone; with hundreds of millions fewer women able to use the internet, the world is missing out on the social, cultural, and economic contributions they could make, the report said.

Boutheina Guermazi, director of digital development at the World Bank, added: “Investing in a more inclusive digital future gives leaders a tremendous opportunity to promote economic growth while creating healthier societies by addressing inequalities in education and earning power.

“For governments looking to build a resilient economy as part of their Covid-19 recovery plans, closing the digital gender gap should be one of the top priorities.”


Sarah Johnson

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Women tap into new roles as mobile internet scheme targets rural India | Amrit Dhillon
A programme to improve digital literacy has provided 1.2 million women in rural India with access to technology hitherto denied them by a conservative culture

Amrit Dhillon in Rajasthan

05, Dec, 2016 @5:00 AM

Article image
Strict parents and social stigma limit mobile use for girls in poor countries
Online safety and digital literacy compromised by challenges teenage girls face in accessing mobile technology, finds study

Karen McVeigh

15, Oct, 2018 @8:00 AM

Article image
Most girls and young women have experienced abuse online, report finds
Cyberstalking, body shaming and being sent explicit content among issues highlighted by Plan International

Kaamil Ahmed

05, Oct, 2020 @6:15 AM

Article image
Funding for women’s rights groups in poor countries falls by more than half
As the Association for Women’s Rights in Development forum convenes in Brazil, unpublished research shows declining support for women’s groups since 2011

Liz Ford in Costa do Sauípe

08, Sep, 2016 @10:00 AM

Article image
Gender inequality ‘an insurmountable obstacle for many women’
UN population fund says lack of empowerment affects every aspect of life for women in the world’s 48 least developed countries

Sam Jones

24, May, 2016 @9:01 PM

Article image
The global crisis of gender inequality – and America's shameful secret
An International Day of the Girl animation looked at how far we have to go to reach gender parity, with the US ranking lower than Kazakhstan and Algeria

18, Oct, 2016 @4:23 PM

Article image
India’s Covid gender gap: women left behind in vaccination drive
Misinformation and access issues combined with patriarchal social norms fuelling disparity in distribution across most states

Nayanika Guha

28, Jun, 2021 @5:15 AM

Article image
Tunisian political party fights for women's rights with gender violence bill
Though sexual violence and harassment are rife in Tunisia, it is seen as a beacon on women’s rights. A draft law could bring reality into line with appearance

Harriet Sherwood in Tunis

24, Oct, 2016 @8:26 AM

Article image
How to end gender violence? Give money to visionary local groups | Jessica Neuwirth
The 16-day campaign against gender violence is a chance to review financial support for women’s rights groups and steer funds to those with direct impact

Jessica Neuwirth

06, Dec, 2016 @11:39 AM

Article image
Gender pay gap costs global economy $160tn, says World Bank study
Analysis of lifetime earnings across 141 countries suggests failure to reward women and men equally generates huge global loss

Kate Hodal

31, May, 2018 @2:01 PM