The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide a landmark opportunity for countries to close the digital gender divide. When UN member states committed to the SDGs, they pledged to:

  • Achieve universal affordable internet access by 2020 (SDG target 9.c),
  • Ensure equal access to basic services [and] appropriate new technology for all women and men (SDG target 1.4),
  • Implement policies to empower women through technology (SDG target 5.b).

Beyond these important targets, access to information and communication technology (ICT) is also critical to achieving other SDGs, such as: achieving quality education (Goal 4), creating decent work and economic growth (Goal 8) and reducing inequalities (Goal 10).

However, urgent action is needed to harness the power of ICTs to achieve the SDGs, and to put women at the forefront of sustainable development. World leaders, including the G20 and SMART Africa, have identified the gender digital divide as a major roadblock to women’s economic empowerment and participation in the digital economy.

Our Women’s Rights Online research reiterates the finding that extreme gender inequalities exist in internet access, digital skills, and online rights across developing countries. Across urban poor areas in 10 cities, including Lagos, Nairobi, Jakarta and Bogotá, women are 50% less likely than men to be online, and 30-50% less likely than men in the same communities to use the internet for economic and political empowerment. The root causes of this difference are high costs, lack of digital know-how, scarcity of content that is relevant and empowering for women, and barriers to women speaking freely and privately online.

The Alliance for Affordable Internet, an initiative of the Web Foundation, shed further light on how poverty and gender interact to keep as much as 80% of the population — mostly women — offline in some developing countries. Furthermore, the digital gender gap is increasing in size (ITU).

Our inaugural Digital Gender Divide Audit, released in September 2016, further assesses the policy efforts and progress made in 10 developing countries towards achieving the SDG targets on women and technology. Our assessment suggests that governments are not doing nearly enough to meet targets by 2030. Without a major escalation of policy effort and investment, most of the benefits of technological change will be captured by men — making gender inequality worse, not better.

Finding Solutions: Action Agenda for women’s digital empowerment

Achieving the SDGs on women and technology will require bold and immediate action. The Alliance for Affordable Internet predicts that, on our current trajectory, we will only achieve universal affordable internet access in 2042 — 22 years after the target date set by the international community.

During the UN High-Level Political Forum and presentations of 44 UN Member States’ Voluntary National Reviews, we will be recommending that countries take the following steps to REACT to close the digital gender divide:

R = Rights

  • Enshrine digital rights into law.
  • Protect and enhance women’s online rights and privacy.
  • Equip judiciary with training and resources to fight online gender-based violence.

E = Education

  • Incorporate digital skills training into primary and secondary school curricula, and ensure that women have equal access to tertiary education opportunities.

A = Access

  • Achieve the Alliance for Affordable Internet “1 for 2” affordability target to enable more women to connect.
  • Develop more public access solutions to offer free or subsidised internet access for those unable to afford it.
  • Create options for subsidised basic data allowance focused on women.

C = Content

  • Prioritise local language content, data, information, and services that empower women.
  • Audit government websites to assess their gender relevance.

T = Targets

  • Adopt concrete ICT gender equity targets, backed by adequate budget.
  • Collect ICT data disaggregated by gender, income, and location.
  • Develop new indicators to measure the impact of ICT on women.

We encourage you to support and drive the REACT agenda to ensure that the full power of ICTs and the internet is harnessed by women, putting women at the forefront of achieving the SDGs.


World Wide Web Foundation Resources:

Women’s Rights Online: Translating Access into Empowerment (2015)

Digital Gender Gap Audit (2016)

How the Women’s Rights Online network is tackling the digital gender gap (2017)

Alliance for Affordable Internet Affordability Report (2017)


Twitter: #WomensRightsOnline / @webfoundation


About the World Wide Web Foundation

The World Wide Web Foundation strives to promote the internet as a human right and a public good. Through our Women’s Rights Online and Alliance for Affordable Internet initiatives we work in partnership with over 80 diverse member organisations from around the world to support over 15 countries to implement gender-responsive ICT policies.WF