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Internet gender gap obvious in developing countries

Internet gender gap obvious in developing countries.

Against the backdrop of the Transform Africa Summit and FTTH Council Africa Conference hosted this week in Kigali, Rwanda, the issue of internet access and relevant penetration rates on the continent has come under the spotlight. Research by the Web Foundation, as well as that commissioned by Intel, suggest that when it comes to empowerment via the internet, women are being left behind.

According to the Web Foundation study while nearly all women and men own a mobile phone, women are still nearly 50% less likely to access the internet than men, with internet use reported by just 37% of women.

The Web Foundation says the study is based on a survey of thousands of poor urban men and women across nine developing countries, including: Cameroon, Colombia, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, Philippines and Uganda.

The survey also found that once online, women are 30 - 50% less likely than men to use the internet to increase their income or participate in public life.

Maintaining existing family and neighbourhood ties through social media is the main Internet activity for urban poor women, with 97% of male and female Internet users surveyed using social media, according to the survey.

"Informal networks are a vital social insurance mechanism for the poor and ICTs have become an indispensable tool for strengthening these relationships," said Ingrid Brudvig, author of the study.

"However, there is a real risk that online social networks simply recreate the inequalities that poor women face in their offline lives, rather than helping them to open up new horizons, and policymakers must take steps to ensure the Internet becomes a truly empowering force.

Family support

The Web Foundation says the study also found that only a small minority of women Internet users surveyed are tapping into technology's full empowering potential by seeking out information, expressing views on important issues, or looking for economic opportunities online.

"Controlling for other variables, women are 25% less likely to use the Internet for job-seeking than men, and 52% less likely than men to express controversial views online," the organisation states.

A report by Intel titled Women and the Web has found that nearly 25% fewer women than men have access to the internet in low and middle income countries and this gap widens to 43% in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Ntokozo Ncongwane, Country Marketing and PR Specialist at Intel South Africa, says one of the key findings in the report is that many women didn't see the value in connecting to the internet, or they were not familiar or comfortable with the technology.

"Affordability of access is unfortunately a challenge for everyone. Women in developing countries face the same obstacles to Internet access that men do: lack of broadband infrastructure, lack of wireless penetration, and correspondingly high prices," says Ncongwane.

The study makes the point that family support is a critical enabler of women's internet use and their belief that engaging online is appropriate for them.

"By empowering girls and women, they in turn can educate their families and communities on the far-reaching benefits of their new skills, including enabling women to connect to health, government and educational information, economic opportunities and gender-specific resources. Access to information and resources such as these will empower women to better take care of and provide for their families," Ncongwane adds.

In her foreword published in the report Shelly Esque, President Intel Foundation and Vice President Corporate Affairs, Intel Corporation, says, "Based on interviews and surveys of 2,200 women in developing countries, as well as interviews with experts and a review of existing literature, this report found that, on average, 23 percent fewer women than men are online in developing countries. This represents 200 million fewer women than men who are online today. In some regions, the size of the gap exceeds 40 percent. In addition, in many regions, the Internet gender gap reflects and amplifies existing inequalities between the sexes."

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