Nº 8 2013 > Broadband Commission for Digital Development

Gender divide in broadband access

200 million fewer women than men online

Gender divide in broadband accessGender divide in broadband access

Unlocking the potential of women as an emerging market

A new report reveals a significant and pervasive gender divide in broadband access between men and women. Worldwide, there are an estimated 200 million fewer women than men online, and this gap could grow to 350 million within the next three years, if remedial action is not taken, according to Doubling Digital Opportunities: Enhancing the Inclusion of Women & Girls in the Information Society, a report by the Broadband Commission Working Group on Gender.

Around the world, women are coming online later and more slowly than men. Of the world’s 2.8 billion Internet users, 1.3 billion are women, compared with 1.5 billion men. While the gap between male and female users is relatively small in countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), it is much wider in the developing world.

Worldwide, women are on average 21 per cent less likely to own a mobile phone — representing a mobile gender gap of 300 million women, equating to USD 13 billion in potential missed revenue for the mobile industry.

Based on extensive research from United Nations agencies, Broadband Commission members and partners from industry, government and civil society, the report provides the first comprehensive global snapshot of broadband access by gender. The report was launched on 21 September 2013 by Helen Clark, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, who has led the Working Group on Broadband and Gender since its establishment in 2012.

“This new report provides an overview of opportunities for advancing women’s empowerment, gender equality and inclusion in an era of rapid technological transformation,” says Ms Clark. “It calls for social and technological inclusion and citizens’ participation, explaining the societal and economic benefits of providing access to broadband and ICT to women, small entrepreneurs and the most vulnerable populations. Most importantly, this report shows ways in which we can further advance the sustainable development agenda by promoting the use of new technologies in support of gender equality and women’s empowerment.”

Research in the report indicates that in developing countries, every 10 per cent increase in access to broadband translates to a 1.38 per cent growth in gross domestic product (GDP). So bringing an additional 600 million women and girls online could boost global GDP by as much as USD 18 billion.

The world may be watching the economic potential of the BRIC economies (Brazil, the Russian Federation, India and China). But the most exciting new emerging market in the world could be women. Analysts believe that over the next decade, women’s potential as producers, entrepreneurs, employees and consumers could rival the impact of the huge populations of China or India.

“Promoting women’s access to ICT — and particularly broadband — should be central to the post-2015 global development agenda,” says Dr Hamadoun I. Touré, ITU Secretary-General and co-Vice Chair of the Broadband Commission.

Ann Mei Chang, who serves as the Senior Advisor for Women and Technology in the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues at the United States State Department, agrees, saying that “access to the Internet can enable women to increase their productivity, access new markets, improve their education, find better jobs, and contribute to the innovation economy.”

Learning ICT skills for employment

Gender imbalances in choosing to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics at school and university leads to gender differences in career choices and ultimately pay differentials in the workforce. The report emphasizes the importance of encouraging more girls to pursue ICT careers. By 2015, it is estimated that 90 per cent of formal employment across all sectors will require ICT skills.

The hottest jobs of the 21st century are hybrid roles, according to Monique Morrow, CTO consulting engineer at Cisco Systems. These jobs combine ICT with business in every imaginable field, including careers in bioengineering, digital media, data informatics, development of applications, telemedicine and remote learning systems. “Let us ensure women are equipped with the necessary skills and training to go further and thrive in the careers of the future,” she says.

Education and income gaps affect women’s access to ICT. Women’s overall lower incomes hinder the purchase of equipment and payment for access; their globally higher illiteracy rate poses another barrier to access. Across all developing countries, only 75 per cent of women are literate, compared to 86 per cent of men, with far greater gaps in some countries.

Many institutions are focusing on improving women’s ICT skills for employment to improve women’s job opportunities, raise their incomes and improve their quality of life. For example, ITU’s “Girls in ICT Day” — celebrated every year on the fourth Thursday in April — aims to raise awareness among school-age girls of the exciting prospects a career in ICT can offer. This year, over 130 countries held Girls in ICT Day events, supported by partners including Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco, ictQATAR, Microsoft and the European Commission. To help older women get online and take advantage of new technologies, ITU has partnered with Telecentre.org, which is on track to train one million women in ICT skills by the end of 2013. So far, over 800 000 women in 85 countries have received digital literacy training, thanks to this partnership.

Renee Wittemyer, Director of Social Impact at Intel Corporation, says that it is important to “make training relevant. With Intel Learn, women and girls are able to apply technology to address needs or problems in their own lives and communities, which keeps them interested and enhances learning.”

The GSMA mWomen Programme aims to facilitate access to mobile products and services that could change the lives of millions of women in low- and middle-income markets. The “Women and Mobile: A Global Opportunity” report, by GSMA and the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, identifies barriers to women’s mobile access that include cost, culture, technical illiteracy and perceptions of value.

“We are seeing exciting examples of how operators are fostering women’s increased access to mobile by gaining deeper understanding of the needs of women as consumers and designing products and services to suit them,” says Dr Anne Bouverot, Director General of GSMA, citing the example of Iraqi operator Asiacell, which launched a line of products designed to match the needs of Iraqi women for mobile services, and which saw the proportion of women in its subscriber base jump from 20 per cent to 40 per cent. Dr Bouverot also gave the example of Indonesia’s Indosat, which created a mobile product (the Hebat Keluarga service for household management and family contacts) specifically targeting the wants and needs of women home-makers. After the launch of this product, nearly two million more women became Indosat customers.

Stereotyping in entertainment media

The origin, evolution and role of content in shaping people’s aspirations and outlooks is the subject of a growing body of research. The gender report notes that a recent study by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, its programming arm See Jane, and the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California found stark inequalities in the representation and gender of characters on-screen. Currently, only one in four characters in family films are female. In crowd scenes, only 17 per cent of the crowd are female, while only 11 per cent of movies have a woman as the lead.

Setting up the Broadband Commission Working Group on Gender was proposed in 2012 by Geena Davis, actor, advocate and ITU Special Envoy for women and girls in the field of information and communication technology. As Ms Davis observed, “despite making up half the population, the message sent to children is that women and girls do not take up half of the space in the world and women and girls have far less value to society than men and boys”. Gender stereotyping remains entrenched in today’s entertainment media. This is a cause for concern, because the influences children are exposed to during childhood may shape their notions of identity and hopes for the future.

Crunching the numbers

In attempting to measure the differences in ICT use between males and females, the obvious approach is to use absolute numbers: the difference between the total number of male users and the total number of female users. But absolute numbers do not take into account the overall sizes of the total populations of men and women — in other words, the populations of potential users. In fact, men outnumber women globally by 62.5 million, but women outnumber men in the developed world.

A more nuanced measure is to compare the proportion of all men who use ICT with the proportion of all women who use ICT. This gives an index based on users relative to potential users, and is a way of comparing like with like.

A third measure is to take the difference between the absolute values relative to a single reference population (usually male ICT users). Again, this does not take into account total populations.

Probably the most accurate measure is to take the difference between female and male ICT penetration rates and divide it by the male ICT penetration rate. This takes into account the difference between the total male and female populations and the different groups analysed.

Other types of measurements — which include Gini coefficients, Lorenz curves and measures of skew — indicate how far the male and female populations of ICT users depart from the line of equality.

The problem is that different methods produce different estimates, and the numbers are not comparable.

Get the facts

The answer is to make sure that data are collected systematically in a comparable way. Sex-disaggregated statistics on gender and ICT should be mainstreamed in national data collecting. Data collection should be based on the internationally agreed methods — and core ICT indicators — recommended by the Partnership on Measuring ICT for Development, as endorsed by the United Nations Statistical Commission.

Gender and ICT statistics must be seen in the context of gender equality. Within the broad topic of gender and ICT, further sex-disaggregated data and indicators are needed on access, usage, skills, content, employment and education, as well as on the extent to which gender is considered in telecommunication policy, whether females are equitably represented in ICT decision-making, and as a way of assessing the economic impact of ICT access on women’s empowerment. Governments should incorporate gender analysis and gender-awareness into policy design.


Celebrating ITU’s 150 Years

In this issue
No.6 November | December 2015

Pathway for smart sustainable cities:

A guide for city leaders

Pathway for smart sustainable cities|1

Meeting with the Secretary-General:

Official Visits

Meeting with the Secretary-General|1
Latest headlines

Boosting “SMEs” for ICT growth

What can governments do better?

A guide for city leaders

By Silvia Guzmán, Chairman, ITU Focus Group for Smart Sustainable Cities