Men Are up to 52% More Likely to Be Online Than Women, Global Study Shows
In 2020, governments in 32 countries — including India — lost an estimated $126 billion in their respective GDP. Why? Because women were unable to contribute to the digital economy due to the digital gender gap, or the difference between the number of women and men who can access the Internet.
The “Costs of Exclusion Report” by the World Wide Web Foundation and the Alliance for Affordable Internet, published this week, assessed the economic cost of the digital gender gap in 32 low-and-lower-middle-income countries, where they believed the gap to be the greatest.
Over the past decade, the 32 countries included in the assessment lost over $1 trillion due to the gap, and the researchers believe we may be on track to lose another $500 billion by 2025 — if governments and policymakers don’t address the issue.
“As the internet becomes a more potent enabler for education, business, and community mobilization, a failure to deliver access for all means failing to realize everyone’s potential to contribute,” Catherine Adeya, director of research at the World Wide Web Foundation, told The Guardian.
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Besides being damaging to the economy, excluding a major chunk of the population from the Internet deprives society of their socio-cultural contribution.
But that’s not all. It also hurts the struggle to achieve gender equality. “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,” said Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, former executive director of UN Women.
This is especially important now since the global pandemic has pushed back gender parity by almost a generation, according to a World Economic Forum report.
Moreover, according to the researchers, the economic losses sustained could’ve been used to invest in health, education, and housing. But instead of crying over spilled milk, perhaps it’s time to remedy the situation.
“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,” Boutheina Guermazi, director of digital development at the World Bank, noted.
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Guermazi is right about a digitally inclusive society holding the potential to address different socio-economic inequalities. And the process of making the Internet accessible to all kick starts the process of doing so — especially since expensive handsets and data tariffs were found to be among the reasons discouraging women from going online as much as men.
Besides the economic challenges, the researchers also cite social norms that discourage women from going online as partly responsible for the gender divide online. “[Y]oung women in Egypt, India, and Jordan, particularly from rural areas, often have their mobile phone use monitored and controlled by their families; this is said to protect them from harassment and to control their communication with men outside the immediate family,” a 2015 report had stated.
In addition, fears around privacy, safety, and security online also discourage several women from accessing the Internet. Last year, a global study spanning 22 countries found that more than half of the women surveyed had been harassed and abused on social media — leading to mental stress and even fear for physical safety. India also saw a sharp surge in cybercrimes against women at the initial stage of the lockdown in 2020 — with a marked increase in instances of ‘sextortion,’ or sexual exploitation through blackmail.
The factors keeping women away from the Internet are as multi-faceted as they are plural. But Guermazi and the others insist it’s time for a change. “For governments looking to build a resilient economy as part of their Covid19 recovery plans, closing the digital gender gap should be one of the top priorities,” she recommended.