In developing countries there are huge disparities between women and men when it comes to Internet connectivity. Both economic and socio-cultural factors are at the root of this online inequality.

Internet Access for Women a Crucial Challenge for Developing Countries
Only in the higher-earning countries do women stand equal with men in terms of Internet access. These are the findings of a study entitled Women and the Web, published by semiconductor chip maker Intel. “On average across the developing world, nearly 25% fewer women and girls are online than men and boys, and this gender gap widens to above 40% in regions like sub-Saharan Africa,” states the report. Nor do the authors point the finger solely at the ‘developing countries’: countries in South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa already showing sustained economic growth have a similar (35%) gap and gaps of around 30% are found in some European and Central Asian regions. Now, with a new initiative entitled ‘She Will Connect’, launched at the end of September, Intel has committed to helping to expand digital literacy skills among young women in developing countries. The programme will make use of new, innovative and scalable models intended, among other objectives, to increase women’s revenue-generating potential using online tools.

Empowering half a billion women and girls through digital literacy

“We believe that closing the Internet gender gap has tremendous potential to empower women and enrich their lives as well as all the lives they touch,” argues Shelly Esque, President of the Intel Foundation. The report is a “call to action”, making a number of recommendations for a huge expansion of women’s opportunities to get online, as this would contribute an estimated $13 - $18 billion to annual GDP across 144 developing countries. Aside from the impact on the economy, Intel also wants to encourage initiatives that foster quality of life improvements within families and is trying to show the way forward here with the ‘She Will Connect’ programme. For the programme, Intel is developing an online gaming platform to innovate the delivery of digital literacy content through an interactive approach. Learning can take place in a mediated environment, individually, across different devices and also as part of a peer network. Maintaining online peer relationships – with family members and friends – can help to provide a reassuring basis for women to join the online world and help to justify their online engagement to their social circle. Accordingly, Intel is working with World Pulse, an action media network powered by women from 190 countries, to integrate World Pulse’s digital empowerment training for women into existing digital literacy programmes. Through the World Pulse platform, women can exchange ideas, find support and mentorship, and obtain useful content tailored for women. 

Mobilising a range of partners and players

Intel also recognises the merits of programmes run by some of its competitors, such as the Girls in ICT platform – an initiative stemming from a partnership between the International Telecommunications Union and global women’s network WITNET. In addition, the Wikipedia Zero project, a joint initiative of the Wikimedia Foundation and a number of telephone operators worldwide, has been set up to enable mobile access, free of data charges, in developing countries. Under these initiatives firms and the media have been encouraged to create relevant local content for women. Medical social network Alfarabi is responding to this need, encouraging users to share their medical histories along the lines of the health and well-being platform Doctissimo and the Amnee mobile and web security app. Last but not least, it is essential to track the way women access the web in order to be able to measure the results of the action taken and to find new ways to drive progress. With this in mind, Google has set up Think Insights, which enables researchers to obtain, among other information, gender-based data in regions where it is usually difficult to do so, and to make it accessible in open format.
By Pierre-Marie Mateo