Digital inclusion for women: Scaling up our efforts

18 Dec 2017 10:15h - 11:45h

Event report

[Read more session reports and live updates from the 12th Internet Governance Forum]

The session explored possible ways to scale up efforts to ensure digital inclusion for women.

The session moderator, Ms Helen Croxson, Market Insights Director, GSMA, asked when it comes to Internet access and usage, who is left behind? Ms Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Chief of the Strategic Planning and Membership Department, International Telecommunications Union, provided that more than half of the world’s population is still not connected. Two out of three of those not connected reside in the Asia Pacific region and many of them live in rural areas. Vulnerable groups are the most affected which mostly means women and girls. The latest ITU statistics demonstrated that the digital gender gap is growing, mostly in Africa, which is why we need to take swift action to close the gap. Affordability, cybersecurity and digital literacy are amongst the common barriers that hinder ICT access for women and girls, let alone the lack of relevant content, since few women are creating content. Further impediments were expounded by Ms Chat Garcia Ramilo, Executive Director, Association for Progressive Communications, who asserted that women are more vulnerable than men due to the social pressure and taboos. Rather than getting empowered, women who get access to the Internet could be subject to criminalisation of behaviour that curtails their freedom of expression (i.e. sexual expression). She said that for this reason, we need to look at the social impact and gender impact downstream of providing access to women as well as the economic opportunities that connectivity provides.

Ms Anna Felt, UN Women, emphasised the importance of research on cyber violence and that some research investigated the economic cost of cyber violence. For example, a study showed that in Papua New Guinea domestic violence has a cost of 5% payroll for companies; this was estimated through calculating absenteeism and the other options that women resort to when they are exposed to violence. In Egypt, the cost of harassment in the public space was found to be around USD 20 – 25 per incident. Yet, further in-depth research is needed to examine the impact of cyber violence on women and to what extent it limits their education opportunities online and their opportunities for employment.

Ms Nanjira Sambuli, Digital Equality Advocacy Manager, Web Foundation, presented some examples on the efforts done to connect women. In Costa Rica, they provide subsidies to low-income households to buy fixed bandwidth and computers. Approximately 95% of the households that qualify for this subsidy are actually female led which is seen as a way to bridge the gender digital divide. In Colombia, the government has a specific programme that targets people who have never been online before through providing around three to four GB mobile data package for approximately USD 2 between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. Moreover, Ms Rachel Samren, EVP Chief External Affairs Officer, Millicom, covered the contribution of the private sector to provide Internet access to women online. She noted that despite that each operator has its own programme, this issue necessitates partnerships and collaboration in order to close the digital divide. Taking this as a starting point, Millicom and GSMA are working together on Connected Women Programme that supports digital and financial inclusion for women.

Ms Bogdan-Martin presented the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development’s Working Group on the Digital Gender Gap. The bridging the gender gap in internet and broadband access and use report of the Working Groups pinpointed key recommendations that underlined the importance of 1) acquiring data, 2) the inclusion of gender perspective in strategies and policies with a budget allocated to this purpose, 3) addressing barriers vis-à-vis access, cyber security, affordability, skills, and content, and 4) partnership and collaboration to make a difference.

On the way forward, what are the issues that should be tackled? Sambuli who stressed that governments should be included in the discourse about the gender digital divide, given that they need to understand the pertinent issues and to commit themselves to address them. Hence she said all the interventions of the private sector and the civil society altogether will be effective if they are only aligned with the national or regional strategies.

By Noha Fathy