The Digital Gender Divide: How Women Are Paying the Costs of Digital Exclusion

October 27, 2021

Across the world, millions are still having difficulties reliably accessing the Internet. This digital divide, however, is especially more pronounced amongst women in the developing world. In an October report published by the World Wide Web Foundation , it is estimated that men are 21% more likely to access the Internet than women, and 52% in least developed countries. 

In addition to typical access barriers such as a dearth of reliable network infrastructure and the inaffordability of mobile devices, women faced additional challenges, such as lack of education, digital skills, and social norms that discourage them from going online. The cost of this exclusion, according to the report, is a whooping $1 trillion over the last decade for these countries. As economic activities become increasingly reliant on the Internet, especially in the aftermath of COVID-19 pandemic, the missed opportunity cost is expected to grow at a higher pace.

Despite these barriers, however, there are many cases of women who embraced the full economic potential of the Internet and became successful entrepreneurs. Across a wide range of sectors and backgrounds, women are increasingly using the Internet to navigate a place for themselves in the digital economy. At the same time, many of these entrepreneurs still report concerns for their safety, as well as facing wider social stigma. Furthermore, these stories, even though they highlight the successful roles that women can play, are outliers rather than the norms. 

Internet accessibility has drastically increased over the last decade, radically changing the way businesses are conducted and the way people interact with each other. At the same time, developing countries, for the most part, had largely ignored that half of the population remained disconnected from this new, digital world. While efforts such as expanding IT infrastructure have been made to increase accessibility, not enough have been done to ensure that women are part of the process. In order to truly close the digital divide, it’s time that we start to discuss how to empower female netizens.

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