UNICEF: Digital divide hits women harder in poor countries

A new report has raised concerns over the disparity in internet access between women and men in low-income countries.

Gender digital divide
Only 10 percent of teenagers and young women in the world's poorest countries have access to the internet [File: Jenny Kane/AP Photo]

Nine out of 10 young women and teenage girls in the world’s poorest countries have no access to the internet, a UNICEF report published on Wednesday says.

The wide disparity in internet access poses a serious risk that women will be left behind economically in an increasingly digitally connected world, the report from UNICEF stated.

About 78 percent of young men and teenage boys in the poorest countries are offline, according to UNICEF, which in its report, examined data usage in 54 mostly low-income nations.

This translates to about 65 million adolescent girls and young women aged 15-24 who do not have access to the internet versus some 57 million of their male peers.

Adolescent girls and young women are being “shut out when it comes to digital skills”, the report said.

Among 54 countries and territories analysed in the report, only eight achieved gender parity in internet use among youth.

Among regions, the largest gap is observed in South Asia, favouring adolescent boys and young men by 27 percentage points.

The importance of digital skills

“Closing the digital divide between girls and boys is about more than just having access to the internet and technology. It’s about empowering girls to become innovators, creators, and leaders,” Robert Jenkins, UNICEF director of education, said in a statement.

“If we want to tackle gender gaps in the labour market, especially in science, technology, engineering and math fields, we must start now by helping young people, especially girls, gain digital skills.”

The report explains that young people also need the right “technical know-how to navigate the internet, synthesise and adapt information and create the world they want to see online”.

Without these digital skills, it says, “young people risk being excluded from the socio-economic benefits of engaging online”.

Even in cases when girls had equitable access to traditional educational opportunities, such as math and reading, the report warned, “it does not always translate to digital skills”.

Disparities in access to technology persist even within the same household. In a study of 41 countries, UNICEF found “households are much more likely to provide mobile phones for boys than girls”.

Female youth are 13 percent less likely to own a mobile phone, UNICEF said, “limiting their ability to participate in the digital world”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies