From activists in Egypt to coffee farmers in Colombia, the Internet has transformed the lives of billions of people. It functions as a gateway to ideas, resources, and opportunities that never could have been realized before, let alone fathomed. All around the world, the Internet is helping people to imagine new possibilities—and then, to make them happen.
But women and girls are being left behind.
On average across the developing world, nearly 25 percent fewer women than men have access to the Internet, and the gender gap soars to nearly 45 percent in regions like sub-Saharan Africa. Even in rapidly growing economies the gap is enormous. Nearly 35 percent fewer women than men in South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa have Internet access, and nearly 30 percent in parts of Europe and across Central Asia. In most higher-income countries, women’s Internet access only minimally lags that of men’s, and in countries such as France and the United States, in fact exceeds it.
Bridging the Internet gender gap represents an opportunity of immense proportions. Internet access is fast becoming an indispensable entrée to a hyper-connected world. The Internet contribution to global GDP is greater than the GDP of Canada. In India, Internet-based economic activity accounts for more than 5 percent of GDP growth. Without access to the Internet, women lack access to its tools, resources and opportunities. And because women are critical collaborators in the effort to achieve development goals such as reduced child malnutrition and mortality, or increased economic growth, this gap disadvantages not just women, but their families, communities and countries. As the findings from this study demonstrate, Internet access and usage:
• Boosts women’s income and income potential. Across our surveyed countries, nearly half of respondents used the web to search for and apply for a job, and 30 percent had used the Internet to earn additional income.
• Increases women’s sense of empowerment. More than 70 percent of Internet users considered the Internet “liberating” and 85 percent said it “provides more freedom.”
• Increases women’s sense of equity. While the international community is split over whether access to the Internet is a human right in itself, nearly 90 percent of women Internet users surveyed said it should be.
A dedicated global effort to address the Internet gender gap could double the number of women online within three years. Although access to the Internet is spreading rapidly in developing countries, women are nearly 25 percent less likely than men to be online. This gender gap—which today prevents a staggering 200 million women from participating online—is projected to perpetuate. A dedicated and coordinated effort by public and private sector actors is urgently needed to accelerate the pace of progress in bridging this gap. Without any concerted action, 450 million new female Internet users are projected to come online in the next three years, simply as a result of organic growth in Internet penetration.
We believe progress can be accelerated to add 600 million new female Internet users within three years, rather than 450 million, which would double the number of women and girls online. As this report will explain, doubling the women and girls online in such a short timeframe is an ambitious but eminently achievable goal—given a concerted multi-stakeholder campaign. This is an opportunity worth urgently pursuing because the faster the internet gender gap is closed, the sooner women, their families, communities and countries will realize the significant socio-economic benefits that can be unlocked through access to the Internet.
Enabling Internet access for an incremental 150 million women promises immediate—and immense—benefits. Seeing another 600 million women online would mean that 40 percent of women and girls in developing countries would have access to the transformative power of the Internet.