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Media (R)evolutions: Dramatic spread of internet, mobile phones not enough to get women online

Roxanne Bauer's picture

Also available in: Español

New developments and curiosities from a changing global media landscape: People, Spaces, Deliberation brings trends and events to your attention that illustrate that tomorrow's media environment will look very different from today's, and will have little resemblance to yesterday's.

The global expansion and near ubiquity of the internet is now taken for granted in many spaces in upper- and middle-income countries. The number of internet users has more than tripled over the past decade—from 1 billion in 2005 to an estimated 3.2 billion at the end of 2015. Mobile phones are the most pervasive way for people to access the internet, and their use has spread through developed and developing countries alike.   

However, this is still not the case for everyone.  Nearly 2 billion people do not own a mobile phone, and nearly 60 percent of the world’s population has no access to the internet. The World Bank’s recent World Development Report 2016 (WDR) on “Digital Dividends” notes that “For digital technologies to benefit everyone everywhere requires closing the remaining digital divide, especially in internet access.”  

Moreover, the digital divide within countries can be as high as that between countries, and one reason for that is that women are less likely than men to use or own digital technologies.  According to a recent Pew Global Survey, “There are gender gaps on many aspects of technology use. For example, in 20 nations, men are more likely than women to use the internet. These differences are especially stark in African nations. Elsewhere, equal shares of men and women use the internet. But large gender gaps also appear on reported smartphone ownership (men are more likely to own a smartphone) in many countries, including Mexico (+16), Nigeria (+13), Kenya (+12) and Ghana (+12).”
Gender divide on internet use     Gender Divide on smartphone ownership

The largest gap in internet use among all countries surveyed by Pew occurs in Nigeria, where 48% of men say they use the internet versus only 29% of women. Double-digit gender gaps also appear in Kenya, Ghana, Vietnam, Tanzania, Pakistan, Palestinian territories, Japan, Burkina Faso, India and Uganda. It’s important to note as well, that there are statistically significant gender differences on internet access in European nations, such as France, Germany and the UK.

Additionally, there are gender gaps on smartphone ownership in 19 of the countries surveyed by Pew. These gaps are especially large in Mexico, Nigeria, Kenya and Ghana. There are also gender gaps on basic cellphone ownership in many countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.

The results of the Pew survey confirm the findings of the WDR, which stated that, “Over 1.7 billion women in low- and middle-income countries do not own mobile phones. Women in those countries are 14 percent less likely to own a mobile phone than men, on average. Women in South Asia are 38 percent less likely to own a phone than men. Barriers to access can be particularly salient in the case of the internet, especially in poor and remote localities where access is predominantly outside the home, and where social norms for socializing or safety concerns can become a barrier.”

Similarly, a World Wide Web Foundation survey of thousands of poor urban men and women across nine developing countries that determined that, “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.”   The survey also found that “Lack of an Internet-enabled device and/or lack of access to a safe public access point were the fourth most important barrier for unconnected women and men alike.”

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Images by Pew Research Center, "Emerging, developing countries gain ground in the tech revolution"

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