Around the World, Internet Access Is a Women’s Issue

Women’s internet access and digital literacy lags greatly behind their male counterparts.

(U.N. Women)

In today’s world, progress cannot be achieved without digital access. And without digital equality, gender equality is not possible. Women globally are the primary victims of digital deserts, due to lack of access, education and training.

Throughout developing countries, women are the primary victims of inaccessibility to the internet. And this digital divide continues to grow, creating an increased need to support digital gender equality.

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the growing gap in digital equality. Over 1 billion new internet users joined the web over the last five years—but 2.7 billion people are still not connected, and the majority are women and girls.

In 2022 alone, 62 percent of men had internet access, compared to 57 percent of women—many of whom live in least developed countries (LDCs), landlocked developing countries (LLDCs) and small island developing states (SIDS).

Due to the unreliability of high-speed internet and a lack of mobile or personal devices like cell phones, computers and tablets, just 19 percent of women in LDCs use the internet—compared to 86 percent of women in developed nations. In relative terms, the global internet use gender gap stands at 8 percent.

This year, the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women and U.N. Women are dedicating International Women’s Day (March 8, 2023) to combating digital inequality and bridging the gender divide for women’s empowerment with the theme, DigitALL: Innovation and Technology for Gender Equality.

The commemorative day brings an urgent call to create increased representation in STEM education; promote full participation in technology, governance and leadership in this field; and create a safe digital environment for women and girls worldwide.

While many events this year are limited to leadership and direct stakeholders, U.N. Women is offering a free public virtual event at noon E.T. on March 9, 2023, Cracking the Code: Innovation for a Gender Equal Future. The thoughtful fireside chat will bring together empowering female experts in finance, technology, health sciences and wellness as they tell their stories and journeys in innovation and technology, and how they are “cracking the code” for gender-equal access to the digital sphere.

The keynote speaker is Dr. Sian Leah Beilock, a renowned cognitive scientist, the eighth president of Barnard College and president-elect of Dartmouth College—the first woman to be elected to the position in Dartmouth’s over 250-year history. A cognitive scientist by training, she is one of the world’s leading experts on the brain science behind “choking under pressure” and the factors influencing all types of performance, from business to education to sports.

Sarah Dey Burton, an expert partner on innovation and design at Bain & Company, will then moderate a conversation between panelists Dr. Carolina Barcenas, head of platform data science at Airbnb, and Megan Nakra, senior manager of product, health science and wellness at EY. Register for event here.

Digital access and digital technologies are an essential pathway to breaking barriers of gender equality and female empowerment for all women and girls. We will not be able to close the digital gender gap, reach complete gender equality or achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) without closing the digital divide. In order to be a part of the digital knowledge economy, the call to bridge the gap and digital inclusion needs to grow louder through conversations and accountability.

Up next:

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Sophia Michelen is a women and children's rights activist, writer, photojournalist, and global health and humanitarian professional. She has experience in international policy, advocacy, research and communication, working with nonprofits, NGOs and international governments. Currently committed to children’s rights, Sophia has worked in emergency relief in the Middle East, on health-system strengthening projects for girls in East Africa, and created advocacy and communication programs for women in Latin America.