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Hackernoon logoThe Lack of Internet Access Deepens Gender Inequalities and Marginalizes Women by@katia-shabanova

The Lack of Internet Access Deepens Gender Inequalities and Marginalizes Women

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@katia-shabanovaKatia Shabanova

20+ experience in IT

Behavioural gender differences have always existed and technology has advanced at a rapid pace, which has brought many changes to our daily lives. However, has access to the internet and information mitigated gender differences? The digital divide between people who have internet access and those who do not could be deepening existing gender inequalities, pushing women further to the margins of society.

About two-thirds of the 6,403 adults surveyed by Pew during 2005 said they use the Internet. Since 2005, there has been a change in the number of Internet users by gender. Young women are more likely to be online than young men and black women have surged online in the last three years.

The TNW report “Digital 2020 Global Digital Overview” notes that gender is a “critical factor”, and point to “data from the ITU showing that women are more likely to be ‘unconnected’ compared to men”, and “the digital gender gap is also apparent” in The Next Web’s “latest social media data” from the Digital 2020 report. 

The report notes “women in Southern Asia are three times less likely to use social media today compared to men, offering meaningful insight into broader internet connectivity in the region”, while pointing to research from GSMA Intelligence which “suggests that more than half of all women living in India today are unaware of the existence of mobile internet”.

The United Nations is quoted as reporting that much of this imbalance stems from “deeply ingrained social norms and practices,” with the report stating “Regardless of the cause, however, connecting the unconnected will depend heavily on improving digital accessibility for women, especially in developing economies”.

There is also the Web Foundation, which wrote a March 2020 article on “The gender gap in internet access: using a women-centred method”. This article notes that “men remain 21% more likely to be online than women, rising to 52% in the world’s least developed countries (LDCs).”

What About Sociability?

Internet service providers drew attention to the fact that women are more likely to use the Internet for communication purposes than men. They are also more likely to go online to send and receive emails, get maps and directions, look for health and medical information, use websites to get support for health or personal problems and get spiritual information, too.

Women are also more likely than men to use email to stay in touch with friends and family, share news, plan events as well as to share entertaining content sent through on the socials. 

When it comes to work, women are more likely than men to value the positive effects of email for improving teamwork. Women also see emails as a kind of positive, water-cooler effect which lightens the atmosphere of office life - and the new realities of much more working from home life, too.

Female Users Use the Benefits of Internet Access

The Internet and digital technologies open a world of opportunities to all users, while they bring particular benefits for all genders, among the ones that research indicates interests women most are: 

  • Health and safety
  • Advocacy and awareness
  • Income and employment
  • Representation and leadership

In remote and underdeveloped areas where medical facilities are few and far between, the Internet makes accessing healthcare information easier for women. For instance, it can decrease the maternal mortality rate through access to prenatal checkups. 

In countries that often face issues such as human rights violations and domestic violence, women with Internet access form larger female communities that are better able to work on shining light on the problems that are often silenced, while also providing better psychological help to women in need.

Furthermore, digitalization helps women to expand their economic opportunities. When women in developing countries gain Internet access, research shows, 3% use it to earn additional income, 45% use it for job hunting, and 80% use it for education.

Improving free and affordable female access to Internet technologies can change the situation on the labour front and male-dominated industries in the long run, too.

Women are Less Likely to Have a High-Speed Connection

In 2005, fewer women (48%) than men (52%) said they had high-speed internet connections in their homes. At work, a greater overall number of female users (74%) said they have high-speed connections, although 11% said they either do not know the answer or refused to answer. 

By mid-2019 however, according to Pew Research, 73% of women and 73% of men in the US were adults who are home broadband users, while 16% of women and 17% of men are adults “who do not use broadband at home, but own smartphones”, showing just how much more pervasive and affordable the Internet has become.

A wide spectrum of new smartphones is available - from the very affordable through to premium models. Voice, text, and up to 5G data plans have never been more competitive. With hundreds of millions of WiFi hotspots worldwide, both free and paid, the world has never been more connected than it is today. In 2020, the need for social distancing and online connectivity put emphasis on remote work & school, online workouts, online shopping, and plenty of streaming online entertainment. 

It’s no surprise that we saw the power of affordable smartphones in 2020. 53.3% of global Internet users connect with each other through a mobile phone, eclipsing the 44% on both laptops and desktops, the 2.7% on tablets and 0.07% on games consoles.

Access to information and communication channels empowers women. In 13 countries, women access the Internet at a higher rate than men. However, this figure represents only one-fifth of countries with data. In most of the world, women are less likely to be internet users regardless of a country's region or income group. The reasons for this are varied: education gaps, lower-income and cultural norms can all contribute to keeping women offline.

To be offline today means to miss out on learning, earning, accessing valuable services, and participating in the democratic public debate.

How Can Internet Access Be Made More Available to Female Users?

Today, women continue to represent the minority of users with stable Internet access on a global basis. The coronavirus only exacerbates this situation.

A number of these reasons include geographic parameters, economic components, and even cultural aspects. Thus, women in countries with internal radical politics may not have sufficient access to Internet resources. In addition, the coronavirus is increasing domestic violence. Therefore, a woman who lives with an abusive person can easily fall into a dependent position and not receive proper help.

This problem could be partially solved by free Wi-Fi hotspots which deliver the Internet connectivity and access to all of its information that brings smartphones and devices to life. In general, these WiFi hotspots are offered to the hotels, bars, cafes, clubs, restaurants and other locations by professional services companies that give access to a good Wi-Fi connection to the public. Today the companies that provide such services operate practically all over the world. For example, the WiFi Map platform and app offers access to over 100 million free Wi-Fi hotspots globally. 

Secure VPN services allow women to receive up-to-date information from all over the world, which, in some countries, can be blocked. They help track Internet connection speed, which, as mentioned earlier, is statistically slower among female users than male. 

Some of the businesses are offering solutions free of charge to help people with their digital needs during the pandemic. Among them are Comcast, AT&T, Charter Communications, and Verizon who provided solutions to help female users with their digital needs through the times of lockdown.


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