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In International Women’s Day we reflect on the need for continuous work with the goal of achieving equal rights and opportunities for women. This year at Public Knowledge, we want to focus in the digital gap and call for the private and public sector to act decisively to close it.
There are plenty of reasons why closing the gender gap is an imperative. Not only is it the right thing to do, but is also economically and politically beneficial for all societies:
- A report by McKinsey&Company shows that closing the gender gap could add as much as $12 trillion in annual GDP by 2025.
- The World Bank has shown how “closing gender gaps benefits countries as a whole, not just women and girls”.
- The Council on Foreign Relations explains that inequality is positively correlated with conflict in the US and abroad.
- The European Commission has as a central aspect of its economic and employment strategy to get more women into the workforce and into top jobs.
The Digital Gender Gap Keeps Growing
And yet, despite all the evidence pointing to the fundamental importance of closing the gender gap, according to data collected by the ITU all over the world women are less likely to have access to the internet than men, resulting in 250 million less women connected that to the internet. And the historical trends are not positive: UN Women highlights how the global internet user gender gap grew from 11 percent in 2013 to 12 percent in 2016.
In addition, research by the Web Foundation shows that the dramatic spread of mobile phones is not enough to get women online, or to achieve empowerment of women through technology. A survey of thousands of poor urban men and women across nine developing countries found that “while nearly all women and men own a phone, women are still nearly 50% less likely to access the Internet than men in the same communities, with Internet use reported by just 37% of women surveyed. Once online, women are 30-50% less likely than men to use the Internet to increase their income or participate in public life.”
And of those lucky women that manage to have access to the internet, three quarters have been exposed to some form of cyber violence. This happens everywhere: According to the Pew Research Center, American women are twice as likely to be harassed and stalked online than men. Young women are particularly vulnerable, being twice as likely than the average internet user to be stalked, harassed, called names or embarrassed in online environments.
What Can We Do?
The promise of the internet as an open platform for innovation and progress cannot be delivered without proportional access for women.
At Public Knowledge, we think this reality is completely unacceptable and work daily to change it. We are aware that in women in rural areas are poorer than women in urban areas and that’s one of the reasons why we defend rural connectivity programs, like the New Deal Rural Broadband Act of 2017. We believe in integrating a gender perspective into all strategies, plans and budgets for connectivity projects such as the Global Connect Initiative. We urged the FCC to preserve Lifeline, a program that helps low-income individuals (who, we are aware, happen to be disproportionately women) to access to broadband internet.
But there is more to do. For that reason, every year we renew our compromise with gender equality and promise to keep defending a progressive telecommunication’s landscape at home and abroad, fighting sexism and misogyny.
We call other actors, public and private, to do the same. Gender equality affects us all. And there is no time to waste.