I have enjoyed the digital government class and have learned a lot about technology applied to government, as well as the entreprenurial toolkit that we have been presented in class -empathy map, minimum viable product, lean startup-. However, as someone whose professional objective is to help reduce gender inequality, the discussions on technology and digital services we have had so far remain insufficient, as we have not sufficiently acknowledged the many gaps and inequalities in digital access that still exist. Such gaps disproportionately affect minorities, and women are one of the affected groups.
Throughout this short reflection I will aim to address some aspects of the gender digital divide Having a gender perspective when discussing technology and digital innovations remains crucial due to the fact that men and women experience the world differently -because of inequalities produced by society-, and thus a digital strategy for the public sector needs to take this into account.
What is the gender digital divide?
The gender digital divide refers to the gap in internet acess between men and women. According to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), more than half of the world's women are not online1. This is particularly evident in developing nations, where adult female internet penetration is 41% compared to 53% for males.
The gender digital both a symptom and a cause of human rights violations against women. It is a symptom in the sense that discrimination against women based on social and cultural norms is one of the most visible causes of the gender digital gap. Simply said, all gaps in internet access are exacerbated by other disadvantages that women experience in society, whether they are based on geography, economic status, age, gender, racial or ethnic origin, social and cultural standards, education, or other variables.
In addition, it is a cause of human rights violations because not having access to the internet leaves women less equipped to exercise their human rights and participate in public life/society
Gap in access
For starters, men and women do not have the same access to technology. According to the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI)2, costs are higher in regions with poor connection owing to a lack of market competition28, and women and girls are more price-sensitive than males. Women frequently have lower income levels (women earn 30–50 percent less than men) and are less financially independent.
There is also a gap in the access to technological devices, such as cellphones and computers. In South Asia the gap in cellphone ownership is 23 percent, and for Sub-Saharan Africa it is 13 percent. According to the GSMA3, women are more likely than men to own basic feature phones that do not enable mobile internet access, and women are 20% less likely than males to acquire a smartphone.
Lack of digital literacy
In addition to a lack of access, there is also reduced digital literacy among women. Due to inequalities in education, women are more likely than males to report difficulty utilizing digital technology. According to one study, women are 1.6 times more likely than males to cite a lack of skills as a barrier to internet use4. As a result, lower levels of digital literacy and a lack of confidence usually hinder women's and girls' digital adoption and use. The Web Foundation discovered, for example, that in Africa and Asia, women with some secondary education are six times more likely to be online than women with only elementary school or less.
Ok... but how does this relate to the class?
A main topic of the class has been how to transform governments from monoliths to platforms. This would involve digitalizing services and having citizens interact with their governments through technological devices. However, if the access to technology remains unequal for women -and other minorities-, we might be at risk for accentuating inequalities in the exercise of citizenship.
A gender sensitive strategy would imply making a conscious effort to ensure more women have access to internet and technology, as well as the required knowledge to use it, before transitioning to a digital-based government. It remains a priority to put humans and their human rights at the center of any digital innovation or plan executed by a government, so that tools do not replicate and exacerbate existing inequalities and indirect discrimination.
1 ITU, 2019. Facts and figures.Available at https://itu.foleon.com/itu/measuring-digitaldevelopment/home/
2Alliance for Affordable Internet,2020. Meaningful connectivity. Available at https://a4ai.org/ meaningful-connectivity/
3 GSMA Connected Women,2020. The mobile gendergap report 2020. Available at https://www.gsma.com/mobilefordevelopment/wpcontent/uploads/2020/02/GSMA-The-Mobile-Gender-GapReport-2020.pdf
4The Web Foundation,2015. Women’s rights online. Available at http://webfoundation.org/docs/2015/10/womens-rightsonline_Report.pdf