Bridging the Digital Gender Gap
In 2016, internet access was declared a basic human right by the United Nations.
It however was reported earlier this year that less than 60% of the global population use it, which is largely due to a significant number of people who are affected by what is known as the digital divide, essentially those who have access to technology and those who do not. The cost of purchasing smart devices and lack of infrastructure contributes to some of the reasons behind this figure, but also many countries, such as Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Saudi Arabia and China, to name a few, restrict or completely deny internet access to their people.
It may come as no surprise that the vast majority of those without any access to the internet are girls and women, which ultimately affects their ability to participate fully in globalisation. A pivotal role for women in Africa is food production and distribution, and with no access, or even restricted access to the internet means they are unable to gain valuable information on products, price and supply chain options which would enhance their potential as a competitor, bringing increased wealth, sustainability and promote growth.
As it stands today, the gap in internet use by women is highest in Africa, whereas in South Asia, women are 25% less likely to own a mobile phone than men. Most households in India own one phone per family and it will usually be a male family member who uses it, leaving the women of the house with little or no knowledge of how to function the handset, let alone how to charge the device. (Source: Plan International)
What causes the gender gap?
There are many factors that contribute to the gender gap including lack of education for women, and lack of support from their families or indeed schools resulting in them losing interest. There is also a 'male' stereotype around technology and this fear of discrimination can prevent females from using digital technology. Another contributing factor is age, given the older generation are less likely to use the internet to learn, or access information, therefore keeping them in the dark about many things, including their basic rights
Three young adults from Africa were interviewed by Plan International, a development and humanitarian organisation that advances children's rights and equality for girls. Shakira age 19 said “technology gives us opportunities to express ourselves”, and Hilda age 20 added “we girls are minimised and left behind, because we are not used to technology”.
And it’s not only the girls who believe they have an equal right to access technology, 20yr Christopher is unequivocally in favour of all girls being offered the chance to engage in technology as he believes “it’s good for them and can add value to their lives”.
As technology evolves, societies will become more dependent on it, and jobs will rely on sophisticated digital skills.
Today 90% of jobs have some digital element, so it’s imperative everyone is given the same opportunity to learn these skills and possess basic digital literacy, starting from training programmes in their schools.
The future female workforce
Samantha, age 11 from Nicaragua is a shining example of how females can excel in the world of technology. She entered a two-year programme with Samsung Electronics, which aims to reduce the digital gender gap, and was taught how to use ‘Scratch Junior’, an app used to create animated stories, as part of the training programme, APPrenderé. Through this tool she created an app for children teaching them about environmental conservation to raise awareness of social problems, an incredible achievement for a person so young. She has won multiple competitions and enjoys sharing her skills and knowledge with other children, whilst simultaneously having fun. Had she not been part of the learning programme, she may well have been one of the many females who are left behind in the world of technology, and a victim of the digital gender gap.
The last year has caused a significant change in gender inequality, due to societies dealing with Covid lockdown and being forced to stay indoors to work and learn from their homes. Women in many countries missed out as they did not have the digital expertise to work from home or socialise online. Students were unable to learn from home without a computer or smartphone, and obviously couldn’t take part in online video calls.
In 2017 the Soronko Academy was set up in Africa for young people, particularly for females, to provide them with the technical skills required to pursue fulfilling careers and reduce the gender gap in technology. Covid lockdowns have caused a surge in women signing up to courses - in 2020 there were over 2000 applicants, compared to around 200-300 applicants in previous years.
How to solve the female digital gender gap
Many of us right now are largely unaware that digital inequality is a major issue in some parts of the world, because in the society we live in, most of us have at least basic technology skills and access to an online tool to enable us to engage with the outside world. Internet access is growing worldwide, but it’s considerably higher in developed economic countries, and this applies to the corporate world too, with only 5% of female CEOs in technological companies in South Africa, compared to 22.5% in the United States. (Source: Saiia)
To end inequality, governments must take more responsibility in promoting talented individuals, regardless of whether they are male or female, to senior positions within companies and ultimately invest in more training to encourage women to use online tools to provide equal access to technology, training and online safety. Everyone has a right to be safe online and women should have the right to speak out for themselves and campaign on issues that can affect their lives, without fear of discrimination.