There are 200m fewer women online than men worldwide – UN report

25 Sep 2013

Dr Hamadoun Touré pictured with European Commission vice-president Neelie Kroes at the second meeting of the Broadband Commission Working Group in New York City on 20 September 2013. Photo via itupictures/Flickr

The UN Broadband Commission’s Working Group on Broadband and Gender has released its first global report on broadband and gender, noting a significant and pervasive tech gap in access to information and communications technology (ICT).

The report, Doubling Digital Opportunities: Enhancing the Inclusion of Women & Girls in the Information Society, was released Saturday, 21 September, and comprises research from UN agencies, Broadband Commission members and partners from industry, government and civil society.

A comprehensive global snapshot of broadband access by gender, the report accounts for 1.3bn female internet users in the world compared to 1.5bn men. This gap of 200m could grow to 350m within the next three years if no action is taken, the report warns.

An untapped pool

“Promoting women’s access to ICTs – and particularly broadband – should be central to the post-2015 global development agenda,” said Dr Hamadoun Touré, secretary-general of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) co-vice-chair of the Broadband Commission.

“The mobile miracle has demonstrated the power of ICTs in driving social and economic growth, but this important new report reveals a worrying ‘gender gap’ in access. We need to make sure that all people – and, most crucially, today’s younger generation – have equitable access to ICTs. I believe it is in the interest of every government to urgently strive to redress this imbalance,” he added.

In fact, this untapped pool of female internet users could be a market opportunity for device makers, network operators and software and app developers – so much so that the report speculates this market could outstrip emerging markets, like China or India.

In developing countries, every 10pc increase in access to broadband translates to a 1.38pc growth in GDP. Based on these figures, bringing an additional 600m women and girls online could boost global GDP by as much as US$18bn.

Women are also 21pc less likely to own a mobile phone worldwide, representing a gap of 300m – not to mention a missed opportunity of revenue for the mobile sector amounting to US$13bn.

Helen Clark - UN Broadband Commission

Helen Clark, administrator, United Nations Development Programme, welcomes gender, education and tech experts to the second full meeting of the Broadband Commission Working Group on Broadband and Gender, New York City, 20 September 2013. Photo via itupictures/Flickr

Social and technological inclusion

“This new report provides an overview of opportunities for advancing women’s empowerment, gender equality and inclusion in an era of rapid technological transformation,” said Helen Clark, administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, who has led the working group since its establishment last September.

“It calls for social and technological inclusion and citizens’ participation, explaining the societal and economic benefits of providing access to broadband and ICTs to women, small entrepreneurs and the most vulnerable populations.”

Globally, women are coming online later and more slowly than men, according to the report. The gap is relatively small in OECD nations, but it widens rapidly in the developing world, where technology like computers is often reserved for use by men. For example, in sub-Saharan Africa, the reports estimates that only half as many women as men are internet users.

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Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.