Article , Infographics / Policy Innovation
Published: 07.03.2023

It will take another 136 years to close the global gender gap” 

Gender inequality exists in every nook and cranny of life, in the realm of politics, laws, education, and the workplace. But have you ever thought about the digital gender divide?

Who has access to the internet? Who can afford to pay for Wi-Fi? Who has a smartphone to download applications and keep updated? Who gets a chance to study online?

Above are some integral questions pertaining to the digital divide. Research has shown that 1.1 billion “women” globally are left behind because they cannot afford to go online.

  • Women in low and middle-income countries are 8 percent less likely than men to own a mobile phone.
  • There is a gender gap in mobile internet access. More than 1.1 billion women across the globe do not have access to mobile internet. More than 300 million fewer women than men have access to mobile internet.
  • There is also a gender gap in smartphone ownership. In low and middle-income countries, women are 20 percent less likely to own a smartphone than men.
  • 38 percent of women in 51 countries said they have experienced cyber violence.

According to UN Women, low and middle-income countries have lost $1 trillion USD in GDP because of the fact that women were excluded from the digital world. Imagine a parallel universe where people had more access to the internet, which would mean increased knowledge and higher income. The persistent digital gender gap largely stems from structural and economic challenges where women have lesser access to economic resources, meaning they are less likely to afford the internet or a mobile phone.

Or imagine a low-income family where the father takes odd jobs and the mother takes care of children at home. They are limited in their resources and can afford to buy a single mobile phone which is most likely to be owned by the father who has to work outside the home. 

Digital access has become essential to life. Simply a mobile phone can now keep one updated, give one access to a range of knowledge, or even start an online business. Digital equality is empowerment for everyone, especially women. 

Let’s explore some case studies that can help bridge the digital gender divide.

  • South Korea has implemented substantial policies to close the digital divide. In 2001, the Korean government gave second hand laptops to people with low incomes, the elderly, housewives, and people with disabilities to ease their access to the digital world. In 2021, the Korean government implemented a strategy based on the vision that it is the government’s responsibility that people have access to the digital world. The strategy includes using existing infrastructure such as libraries and community centres as offline digital education providers.  
  • Germany’s  EQUALS Digital Skills Fund is a collaboration between various parties including the Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development. The fund offers support to initiatives that build digital and entrepreneurial skills for women in Africa, Asia and Latin America. 
  • Costa Rica has a policy on “gender, science, and technology” that aims to eradicate obstacles to women’s participation in technology. The policy attempts to eliminate gender stereotypes, and gender discrimination, and build incentives for educational institutions and companies to create gender equality. 
  • Collecting gender-disaggregated data on women’s access to the digital world and the violence they face online is necessary for understanding women’s experiences. This will help policymakers create effective measures in lessening the gender divide. (There are only 24 countries in Asia and Africa that collect gender-disaggregated data on access to the internet.)


What else are the basics that policymakers can do to lessen the digital gender divide? Follow this checklist and think it through before you kick off a project:

  • In case you are designing an online service, think about those who are likely to not have access to the online platform. Who can or cannot afford a smartphone or the internet?
  • Who lacks technological skills or tools? And how does such a lack affect their opportunities in life? 
  • In designing an online project, have you thought about also having the offline option?
  • Do you fully understand the population who lack access to the digital world? In what way can you try to better understand their conditions? 


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