The fight for women's rights has been a long and arduous journey, marked by significant achievements and setbacks. Women's right to vote, secured by the suffragette movement, was a major milestone in this struggle. However, despite these achievements, gender inequality persists in various forms, ranging from the gender pay gap to limited access to technology. This article sheds light on data and statistical information that reveal the extent to which women's access to technology is still limited.
According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), there are still 2.7 billion people who do not have a reliable internet connection, and women are disproportionately affected. The digital divide is a term used to describe the gap between those who have access to technology and those who do not. Unfortunately, this divide disproportionately affects women, particularly those living in low-income communities. This means that many women do not have access to the same resources and opportunities as their male counterparts. As surveyed globally, more than 58% of men have access to internet, compared to less than 48% of women. Many women, including those in Europe and North America, are unable to access services because they are either expensive or severely limited in rural or underserved areas. The difference is much starker in developing countries. In Africa, for example, only 34% of women have access to the internet, compared to 45% of men. The disparity is even wider in the Arab world, with 75% of men having a reliable internet connection and only 65% of women having the same. According to ITU data, only 19% of women in least developed countries used the Internet in 2020, compared to 86% in developed countries in 2019.
Furthermore, despite the fact that online business and mobile money are still expanding, more than 900 million women are still excluded from the digital economy and do not have access to banking services. Bridging the digital gender gap not only requires infrastructure investments but also making digital technologies more affordable, as cost remains one of the key obstacles for women to access the Internet. In certain low income households, accessing the Internet entails having to sacrifice key household purchases such as food, health care and clothing (OECD, 2018b). In the past ten years, women's exclusion from the digital sphere has reduced the GDP of low- and middle-income countries by $1 trillion. According to the UN Women, this limits not only their own digital empowerment, but also the transformative potential of technology as a whole.
Looking at example of some nations, such as Argentina and South Africa, the government uses funds from universal service funds to support ICT access for women and girls; Canada included a new Affordable Access program in its 2017 budget that works with service providers to provide affordable home Internet packages to low-income families who are interested (OECD, 2018b).
It is a well-known fact that technology has the capability to enhance women's availability to healthcare, education, and economic prospects. For instance, mobile health initiatives have the capacity to furnish women in remote regions with healthcare services that may not be readily available to them.
Similarly, existing web-based educational platforms can offer women access to education and proficiency training that can aid in their professional growth but despite their availability the gender gap in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields persists. This is due to several factors such as lack of funding to deploy these solutions globally, a lack of internet infrastructure and others. Even in developed countries, the percentage of women in the STEM workforce remains very low at only 28%. While there are other contributing factors such a workplace discrimination, the number is still striking.
This leads to a new set of problems, such as biased technological development. For example, facial recognition technology has been found to be less accurate in identifying women than men, which can have implications for women's safety and security. This is just one example of how technology can sustain pre-existing gender prejudices and strengthen gender disparities if the fundamental concern of equal access to technology is not addressed.
Education plays a crucial role in promoting women's participation in the technology industry. To overcome the existing barriers that create a digital gender divide, it is essential to develop innovative and customized education programs and edtech solutions that meet the specific needs of women and girls worldwide. This requires consistent funding and a global commitment to implementing these changes.. These changes can equip women with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in the technology industry, bridge the dgital divide, and advance their careers.
In conclusion, technology has the potential to be a powerful tool for advancing women's rights, but it is not a silver bullet. We must work together to address the underlying systemic issues that perpetuate gender inequality, and ensure that everyone, regardless of gender, has equal access to the benefits of technology. Only then can we truly achieve gender equality and create a more just and equitable society for all.
References: Equal Measures 2030. OECD. ITU.American Association of University Women. UN Women