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‘Women’s participation in digital economy, still low’

By Tare Youdeowei

DESPITE worldwide endeavours, the global internet user gender gap widened from 11 per cent in 2013 to 12 per cent in 2016. The gap is highest in least developed countries, LDCs, which account for 31 per cent, while Africa accounts for 23 per cent.

In the same vein, internet penetration rates also remain higher for men than women in all regions of the world.

To stem this tide, the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development  was established in 2010 and comprises more than 50 leaders from across a range of government and industry players that are committed to actively supporting countries, UN experts and NGOs to fully leverage the potential of ICT to drive national Sustainable Development Goal.

The support is strategically in key areas such as education, healthcare, gender equality and environmental management.

Environmental management

In pursuance of gender equality in internet penetration, the new Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development’s Working Group on Digital Gender Divide  has called for renewed action to bridge the increasing digital divide.

In a recent report, the commission highlighted key action areas for different types of stakeholders as part of the group’s effort at ensuring that all women and girls fully participate in the online world. It also indicated that structural inequalities remain and impede women’s full and equal participation in the digital economy.

Greater internet access and use, the report noted, “will not only have a positive impact on women’s lives, but can deliver significant benefits to the wider economy and society, as well as support the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, in particular Goal 9c, which contains a target for universal and affordable access to information and communications technologies, ICTs, in LDCs by 2020.”

Specific recommendations to address the barriers women face in access and use of the internet, as proffered by the working group, cuts across compiling evidence and supporting cooperation of stakeholders.

The Commission recommends thus:

“Compile detailed evidence: Collect, analyze and track sex-disaggregated data to inform policy, particularly at a national and sub-national level, through a greater understanding of the issue.

Integrate policy: integrate gender equality targets and key performance indicators into strategies, policies, plans and budgets, involving women and relevant local communities from the onset.

Address the barriers women face: confront barriers that impede gender equality online, including: affordable access, issues around safety, digital literacy and confidence, and the availability of relevant content, applications and services.

Support multi-stakeholder cooperation: develop tools and policies to support national and international efforts, and effective sharing of best practices to address the digital gender gap.”

The report recognizes the different but complementary roles of various actors, including governments and policy-makers, private sector, intergovernmental organizations, NGOs, academia and research institutions, and outlines detailed recommended action points for each stakeholder group.


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