More than 50pc of the world’s women are not using the internet

5 Nov 2019

Image: © Abdulwahab/

New research from the UN has revealed that while there has been a huge uptake in internet use globally, the gender gap is getting wider.

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) – a UN agency – has released its latest report measuring the state of play when it comes to global internet adoption in 2019. It said that 4.1bn people in the world now use the internet, equating to around 53pc of the world’s population.

Meanwhile, internet adoption – particularly on mobile – is now almost ubiquitous. The data showed that 96pc of the world population now lives within reach of a mobile cellular signal and 93pc have access to 3G speeds or higher. Regionally, the Americas and Europe have 95pc 3G coverage versus 79pc in Africa.

However, the ITU has warned that while most of the world now has the chance to access the internet, the digital gender gap is getting wider. Estimates now suggest that 52pc of the world’s women are not using the internet, compared to 42pc of men.

Overall, the proportion of all women using the internet globally is 48pc compared to 58pc of all men. Disparities are seen in all regions across the globe, except in the Americas where there is near-parity.

Worryingly, the digital gender gap was found to be widening in Africa, the Arab states and the Asia-Pacific region. It is widest in developing countries, especially in the least developed countries.

An urgent priority

The gap is especially prevalent when it comes to mobile, with 61 of the 85 countries surveyed having a higher proportion of mobile phones owned by men than women. An outlier to this is Chile where ownership is skewed towards women by 12pc.

The ITU estimated that 3.6bn people remain offline, mostly based in developing nations. Doreen Bogdan-Martin, director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau, warned that connecting these people “must become one of our most urgent development priorities”.

In terms of figures, while Europe is reaching saturation level with close to 87pc online, usage in Africa is as low as 28.2pc. In 40 out of 84 countries for which data is available, less than half the population has basic computer skills, such as copying a file or sending an email with an attachment.

“Even where connectivity exists, we need to be more creative in addressing critical issues like affordability of service, cost of handsets, and lack of digital skills and literacy to enable more people – and especially women – to participate and flourish in the digital economy,” Bogdan-Martin added.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic