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The report finds that a gender digital divide persists, regardless of a country’s overall ICT access levels, income level or geographic location.

The report argues that bridging the gender digital divide requires more than ensuring women and girls have access to cell phones and the internet.

15 March 2019: The UN University-led EQUALS Research Group released its inaugural report on closing the gender digital divide. Presented at the 63rd session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW 63), the report highlights the importance of providing training to women and girls on how to use information and communications technology (ICT).

EQUALS is a global partnership of corporate leaders, governments, non-profit organisations, communities and individuals, founded in 2016 by five partners: the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), UN Women, the International Trade Centre, GSMA and UNU. The Partnership works to reverse the increasing gender digital divide, and to close the gap by 2030, supporting SDG 5 by empowering women through their use of ICT. The Research Group is led by the UNU Institute on Computing and Society, and supports the work of the three EQUALS Coalitions (Access, Skill, and Leadership)

The Research Group’s report titled, ‘Taking Stock: Data and Evidence on Gender Equality in Digital Access, Skills and Leadership,’ finds that a gender digital divide is present regardless of a country’s overall ICT access levels, income level or geographic location. The global gender gap in mobile internet usage, for example, is 26%. Regionally, this gap is found to be 4% in Europe and Central Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and East Asia and the Pacific; 21% in Middle East and North Africa; 34% in Sub-Saharan Africa; and 70% in South Asia.

The report identifies six main barriers to gender digital equality: availability of infrastructure; financial constraints; ICT ability and aptitude; interest and perceived relevance of ICTs; safety and security; and socio-cultural and institutional contexts. As technologies become more expensive and sophisticated, the report observes, the gender digital divide widens. Case studies help to share the story of how technology affects women and girls in various contexts.

The authors argue that bridging the gender digital divide requires more than ensuring women and girls have access to cell phones and the internet. They underscore the need to train women and girls in using technology to their benefit, actively encourage women to take on ICT leadership positions, and build girls’ self-efficacy and confidence in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The report finds that the negative impacts of technology, such as online harassment, cyberstalking, privacy violations and surveillance, can be averted with training for women and girls on ensuring their safety both online and offline. The report also outlines current differences between men’s and women’s digital skills, and the extent of women’s participation in digital technology industries as entrepreneurs, leaders and employees.

On data, the report emphasizes the importance of gender-disaggregated data to identify and monitor inequalities. This type of data is critical to assess progress towards the SDGs and other goals. As an illustration, the report finds there is a difference between use and ownership, and states that understanding the disparity between the two indicators is likely key to understanding the disadvantages women face in access to ICT. The authors also caution that large regional variations and gaps within countries, depending on the indicator being measured, require contextualized analysis. Additional data challenges include: a lack of official statistics and scholarly research outside of North America and Europe, particularly for longitudinal data; the lack of internationally agreed definitions and methodologies for collecting data; and low research capacities in government agencies and academic institutions in most countries.

Within this context, the report states that no single strategy can eliminate gender digital inequalities. The report makes a number of recommendations, including reshaping social norms and stereotypes that are the root of gender inequalities. The report further recommends targeting specific contributing factors of gender digital inequality, such as recruiting practices and affordability. To increase gender equality in ICT access, the authors suggest improving safety and security online, investing in women’s education and basic digital skills capacity building, providing relevant content, and mainstreaming gender perspectives into policies and budgets.

CSW 63 is taking place in New York, US, from 11-22 March 2019. [UN News Story] [EQUALS Press Release] [Publication: Taking Stock: Data and Evidence on Gender Equality in Digital Access, Skills and Leadership]


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