There is still a significant gender technology gap in access to information and communication technologies (ICTs) across the globe, according to a report released by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Broadband Commission Working Group on Broadband and Gender.
The survey titled “Doubling Digital Opportunities: Enhancing the Inclusion of Women and Girls in the Information Society”, was released on Sunday at the eighth meeting of the Commission, which was held in New York to coincide with the 67th session of the UN General Assembly.
The Commission, which is co-Chaired by President Paul Kagame and Carlos Slim, the Mexican Billionaire, and co-Vice Chaired by Dr Hamadoun I. Touré, the ITU Secretary-General and Unesco Director-General Irina Bokova, has been advocating for broadband at the highest level since 2010.
Globally, the report estimates that there are currently 200 million fewer women online than men, and warns that the gap could grow to 350 million within the next three years if action is not taken.
The study, that brings together extensive research from UN agencies, Commission members and partners from industry, government and civil society, creates the first comprehensive global snapshot of broadband access by gender.
It was officially launched by Helen Clark, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), who has led the Working Group since its establishment at the 6th meeting of the Broadband Commission in New York last September.
“Women are coming online later and more slowly than men. Of the world’s 2.8 billion Internet users, 1.3 billion are women, compared with 1.5 billion men. The gap widens rapidly in the developing world, where expensive, ‘high status’ ICTs like computers are often reserved for use by men,” says the report.
In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, the report’s authors estimate that there are only half the numbers of women connected as men.
Rwanda’s drive to address gap
Rwanda has embarked on a drive to encourage women to pursue careers in ICT, to help bridge the gap between males and females using ICTs.
Despite the lack of official statistics, in comparative terms, officials say that the sector remains mostly male-dominated.
The country considers the future of the ICT exciting as it promotes creativity, innovation and entirely new ways of working, interacting and learning that should appeal to women and men alike.
“Rwanda is encouraging both girls and boys to consider taking a career in ICT because we are living in an increasingly digitalised world and in the few years to come technology will be at the centre of everything,” Jean Philbert Nsengimana, the minister of youth and ICT told The New Times yesterday.
The government, through the Ministry of Education, is encouraging more girls to study tech subjects, and pursue tech careers.
The report further says that worldwide, women are also on average 21 per cent less likely to own a mobile phone – representing a mobile gender gap of 300 million, equivalent to US$13 billion in potential missed revenues for the mobile sector.
“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 Clark.
Dr Touré said promoting women’s access to ICTs – and particularly broadband – should be central to the post-2015 global development agenda.
“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.”
The report speculates that today’s untapped pool of female users could also represent a market opportunity for device makers, network operators, and software and app developers that might equal or even outstrip the impact of large emerging markets like China or India.
The research emphasises the importance of encouraging more girls to pursue ICT careers.
By 2015, it is estimated that 90 per cent of formal employment across all sectors will require ICT skills.
ITU’s ‘Girls in ICT Day’, established in 2010, aims to raise awareness among school-age girls of the exciting prospects a career in ICT can offer.
Clarisse Iribagiza, the CEO of HeHe Limited, a local mobile technologies company said: ‘Girls in ICT Day’ has helped in driving girls to embrace ICT careers, a large number of girls are currently involved in ICT related activities.”