SIOUX FALLS, South Dakota — While the gender gap in internet usage has narrowed in recent years with 54% of women in low-and-middle-income countries using mobile internet in 2020, the gender gap remains significant. In low-and-middle-income countries, 300 million more men access mobile internet than women. Lack of digital literacy skills is one of the main reasons women and girls are slower to utilize mobile internet. Throughout the world, women are excluded from the financial, educational, social and health resources of digital technology. The EQUALS Global Partnership promotes female digital literacy and women in tech careers while accelerating progress toward Sustainable Development Goal 5: gender equality.
Barriers to Female Digital Access
For both men and women in low-and-middle-income countries, affordability and lack of literacy and digital skills are the main barriers to mobile internet use. Without a mobile phone, women cannot access the mobile internet. For the women that are aware of mobile internet and have access to it, lack of digital literacy skills prevents them from adopting it.
Although barriers to internet access exist for both men and women, women in developing countries access the internet less often than men because of additional cultural caveats. Sometimes families do not approve of women using mobile technology. As a result, women in low-and-middle-income countries are 8% less likely to acquire a mobile device than men. This leads to 165 million more men than women possessing a mobile phone.
EQUALS Global Partnership
In 2016, the International Telecommunication Union, U.N. Women and partners, created the EQUALS Global Partnership. EQUALS now has more than 100 partners including GSMA, the International Trade Centre and the United Nations University. Its mission is to close the digital gender gap and to empower women within tech and STEM careers by improving female digital literacy. EQUALS consists of four coalitions:
- The Access Coalition works to improve the gender gap in digital accessibility by expanding women and girls’ access to digital technology. The coalition addresses the caveats women and girls face when accessing the internet.
- The Leadership Coalition helps women find positions in the technology sector. With lead partners, the International Trade Centre and U.N. Women, the Gender Equitable Investment in Tech project fights for women in tech to receive adequate funding.
- The Skills Coalition aims to ensure that all children, especially girls, receive digital skills education. It also brings attention to the importance of gender equality in tech. Tech4Girls is a project of the Skills Coalition. Tech4Girls hosts workshops for girls to learn technology skills and to better understand tech professions.
- The Research Coalition aims to generate data and knowledge on gender inequality in companies, governments, academia and more. The coalition works to collect, analyze and display data to improve gender equality in digital spaces.
Improving Digital Skills During COVID-19
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, internet access and digital literacy are more vital than ever before. Countries are embracing digital tools as the world and economy become more digital. Ensuring that marginalized women receive digital literacy skills is vital for transitioning into an increasingly digital environment. In March 2021, EQUALS, the World Bank and GSMA launched three pilot programs with local organizations to give women and girls digital skills training to empower them to thrive in the digital economy.
- The Digital Opportunity Trust (DOT), a not-for-profit organization, will carry out a pilot program in Rwanda. The pilot targets women between the ages of 18 and 35 who run small, micro or informal businesses. DOT will teach young women digital skills to help them develop their businesses.
- In Uganda, Trickle Up and the AVSI Foundation will implement a pilot program aimed at women with limited digital education opportunities such as refugees and lower-income women.
- NatView Technology’s pilot program in Nigeria helps women develop technical and transferable work skills to prepare them for career opportunities in the digital economy.
Female Digital Literacy as a Key to Poverty Reduction
With adequate digital skills, women can actively participate in a global digital economy. Estimates suggest that 90% of future careers will demand digital skills. When women in low-and-middle-income countries acquire digital literacy, they can reach their full potential in the modern workplace. When women can reach their full potential, they can contribute to the growing digital economy. With women digitally skilled and online, countries are one step closer to gender equality and better economic outcomes.
The EQUALS Global Partnership website states, “It is clear that without women’s participation in digital technology development and access to digital technology resources — we all lose.” The organization strives to improve digital access and skills in women and girls to prepare them for a digital world. Female digital literacy is vital because it ensures that women and girls can equally participate in an ever-growing digital society.
– Bailey Lamb