women internet access poor country

Women in developing nations one third less likely to have internet access than men

Women from developing nations are significantly more likely to lack internet access than men, and the gap is widening, according to a new study by anti-poverty group the ONE organisation.

The study found that almost a third fewer women than men in the world’s poorest countries are connected to the internet. About 18 per cent of men in the 48 least developed nations are online versus 12.5 per cent of women, with a gender gap of 22.3 million, or about 30 per cent.

The analysis also forecast the digital gender divide would widen further by 2020 to about 32 per cent when factoring in population growth and current internet trends, to a gap of 53.5 million.

The report said a global target set by UN member states last year to have universal affordable internet access in the least developed countries by 2020 was off track.

Anti-poverty campaigners and tech leaders such as Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg have actively promoted the internet to help lift people out of poverty by connecting them to education and business opportunities, as well as health services and banking.

Google is also trialling its ‘Project Loon’ programme which will see internet-beaming balloons filled with helium floated over Indonesia to boost online access to underprivileged island dwellers. 

David McNair, policy director at ONE, said the new analysis showed that almost 350 million women and girls would remain unconnected by 2020, compared to about 290 million men due to a range of access, cultural and literacy factors.

“But the fact is that when you empower women and girls to more education and job opportunities then this also benefits their families, communities and countries,” McNair said.

Studies repeatedly show that women plough 90 per cent of their income back into their families compared to men, who invest about 35 per cent in their families.

While internet connectivity is assumed as a given in many parts of the world, figures from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) show that 53 per cent of the world population, which amounts to 3.9 billion people, remain unconnected.

The ITU, a UN agency for information and communication technologies, estimates almost 75 per cent of people in Africa do not use the internet compared to 21 per cent of Europeans, and usage rates are higher for men than women globally.

A survey of 40 countries by the US-based Pew Research Center earlier this year found Nigeria, Kenya and Ghana were the countries with the largest divide between the numbers of men and women likely to use the internet.

McNair has said governments needed to invest more in technology infrastructure and change laws to open up internet and mobile markets.

“We want tech leaders to use their brilliant minds to find solutions to help those living in poverty and not just people in London and San Francisco,” he said.

“We need to stop the next generation of women missing the opportunities for empowerment, education and inclusion offered by the internet.”

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