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The Gender Gap in the Digital Economy: the Issues Tackled by the W20

By | [email protected] | May 25, 2018 11:46am

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Let’s talk about leaning in. This year under Argentina’s presidency, the G20 highlights gender equality in its mission statement:

“As a result of structural inequality, policy action has different implications for women and men. That is why it is mandatory for our presidency to foster a gender mainstreaming strategy across the whole agenda. We know that the only way to achieve truly fair and sustainable development is by ensuring that women and men will benefit equally from it.”

The Women20 engagement group (W20), consequently, has a tall order to fill. It has named four sectors in which it will address the gender inequalities: labor inclusion, digital inclusion, financial inclusion, and rural development.

In a statement, W20 Chair Susana Balbo spoke out about the objectives of the group: “W20 Argentina is working with civil society to reach the most relevant recommendations, taking into account the role of governments, private sector, and the importance of education and culture. The ultimate goal is to agree on concrete actions that will lead the G20 countries toward a smaller digital gender gap, and therefore more equitable economies.”

Next week, the W20 will meet in Paris to discuss digital inclusion, particularly the gender gap in the digital economy.

Women, for a multitude of reasons stemming from economic, legal, and cultural, have faced significant barriers to access to technology. Compounded with the already dire straits of workplace inclusion and access to equal salaries, this digital divide furthers the gender gap.

To “mansplain” this -if you will- to get the point across: the inequality in access to technology affects professional and personal development for women because they do not have the same opportunities or resources that are provided for men.

It’s not just access to the Internet, it stretches all the way to women in the technology sector as well. At the top, only 3 percent of technology companies have female CEOs. Despite being half of the population of users, women represent just 20 percent of technology specialists.

For a more local take, according to data from the Comunidad Argentina de Sistemas, women represent only 6 percent of the workforce in technology and systems.

The Bubble reached out to Juliana Bonetto, W20 Executive Director to shed more light on the issue.

Among developed countries, what is the most common cause of the gender gap in the digital economy? For developing countries?

There are many different causes to the gender gap and they vary, not only between developing and developed countries, but also in relation to cultural concerns. Among the most common causes: price for access to products and services, the fear of violence (that women might be robbed or harassed), and lack of interesting content.

The cost of cell phones and Internet access services is the barrier most mentioned by more women than men because women tend to earn less. Women tend to have a lower quality or functionality of equipment and obtain them later than men. 80 percent of people who access the Internet, do so via a mobile phone.

In addition, coverage and quality of Internet/electricity services, as well as access to higher technology devices also plays a role. In some cases, sharing or borrowing cell phones can provide a certain level of access, but does not help access in information with the necessary privacy. In a world where there are 10 percent fewer women that own a cell phone [versus their male counterparts], this represents 184 million women, which translates to 12 percent fewer women who have access to the Internet.

The fear of physical violence, theft of devices, and both physical and online harassment impact women more than men. Women are more likely to suffer online harassment, especially very young and teen girls. Latin America reports more worries in security and privacy than anywhere else in the world.

Women all over the world present low levels of digital capacities as a result of the lack of education linked to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). Consequently, women show a lower level of confidence in these subjects. In low-income countries, women are 26 percent less likely to use the Internet.

In the majority of developing countries, cultural stereotypes still excise attached to STEM careers, namely that they belong to men. In addition, in these countries, there are restrictions to what women and girls can access online. That’s why it’s necessary to work in removing gender stereotypes linked to technology both in at school and at home, in the media and the industry.

In terms of legislation, what measures, if any, have been taken by the governments of G20 countries? 

Many countries require legal or institutional mechanisms that permit women to effectively report on violence or harassment online.

In the case of the countries which have strategies to promote technology, gender needs to be taken in perspective to analyze if women are truly accessing the offered resources: are women occupying the spaces where the services are offered? Does the content available take into account the needs of women? Are social norms allowing access to said resources?

What can the private sector do to bridge the gap? Are there any recent developments in that regard?

The private sector is promoting initiatives to promote women in STEM, as well as investing in connectivity.

It is necessary to have public-private collaboration to allow for greater coverage, capacity, and quality of networks, especially in rural areas where there are large populations of women. Multilateral development banks play a fundamental role in financing projects to close the digital gap and to ensure universal access to the Internet.

In comparison to the rest of the world, how does Latin America fare in this regard? 

In the region, the gap for access to cellphones is 2 percent and to the Internet 4 percent, much less than the global average at 10 percent and 26 percent, respectively.

Specific challenges for the region include the inequality between rural and urban zones, school curriculum and usage of ICT in the classrooms, development of relevant content and services, and the promotion of security online. There are fewer female teachers with digital capacities and a low representation of women in STEM careers.

What types of challenges do countries face to reach this type of equality? 

The challenges are associated with the barriers. It is very important to monitor data on Internet access and usage in every country by gender in order create integrated policies that address the specific problems in each context.

A common denominator in all developing countries is the lack of infrastructure in rural communities for adequate Internet access and usage of technology, as these are the most relegated zones.

Ensuring a quality education, with emphasis on STEM for all children in order to develop the necessary tools to create careers in those fields. Currently, women only represent 30 percent of those studying STEM. This impacts generations of content as well as new technologies. One great challenge is to include more women in the design, development, implementation, and regulation debates in all technologies, in particular with artificial intelligence.

The best way forward? Comprehensive action, starting from the bottom up. Fundamentally, girls should be taught STEM and digital literacy in such a way to promote entry in those careers. In addition, W20 has recommended investing in gender-focused infrastructure. This includes, for example, databases of information on access to technology separated by gender, in order to monitor the digital divide and subsequently create policies to reduce it. W20 has also pushed for a more concentrated effort in G20 counties to facilitate access to basic items like the Internet, mobile phones.

The W20 Roundtable on Digital Inclusion will be held in Paris this Wednesday. The objective of these roundtables are to develop drafts for a final communiqué to be presented to G20 leaders by the end of the year.

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