The Internet gender gap is hurting the world's economy as well as millions of women across the globe, says a newly released, groundbreaking study.
Getting Internet access to an additional 600 million women in the next three years would result in an estimated increase of $13 billion to $18 billion in gross domestic product across 144 developing countries, according to the report titled Women and the Web.
The report is the result of studies sponsored by Intel Corporation, an American multinational semiconductor chip maker; Dalberg, a management consultancy firm specializing in global development; and GlobeScan, a public opinion research consultancy working in more than 70 countries. World Pulse, a nonprofit media network involving women from 190 countries, also contributed to the study.
According to the report, women are nearly 25 percent less likely than men to be online. "For women in developing countries, the Internet can be the gateway to a host of tangible benefits, such as job and education opportunities, and to less tangible benefits, such as confidence, self esteem and empowerment," the report says.
So what's standing between women and the Internet?
One huge barrier is illiteracy, the report says. Across all developing countries, about 25 percent of women are illiterate, compared to 14 percent of men.
In some countries, cultural norms deem Internet usage "inappropriate" for women, the report says.
Many women simply do not know what the Internet is, or how it might benefit their lives. Others have never learned to use the Internet, according to the report.
"Women are not inherently less adept at technology than men," the report says, "and as analyses have shown, so-called technophobia is largely a reflection of gender disparities in education, employment and income."
But the report also found that the longer a woman has used the Internet, the more likely she is to engage in online activities that yield tangible benefits.
"Women with more than five years of online experience are twice as likely to seek out information on financial services and banking, or related to their source of income, than women who have joined the Internet within the last year. They are also 50 percent more likely to buy things online," the report says.
The report was unveiled January 10 at the International Forum on Women, ICT, and Development (WICTAD), a two-day forum co-sponsored by the U.S. Department of State's Office of Global Women's Issues and U.N. Women at the Institute of International Education in Washington. The forum brought together representatives from civil society, academia, government, the private sector and the United Nations to assess the social, economic and political implications of the gender gap in Internet access.
Internet access is the 21st century's "great equalizer," according to Melanne Verveer, the U.S. Department of State's ambassador-at-large for global women's issues. "Should we fail to close the gaps that are already occurring, we will fail in so many other ways as well," she said at the forum.
To help close those gaps, Verveer said, the U.S. Department of State has launched a number of initiatives aimed at women and girls.
For example, mWomen works to give more women access to mobile technology. Even women who are entrepreneurs at the lowest level of economic activity, according to Verveer, can use simple technology such as mobile phones to monitor weather reports that affect their work in agriculture and to track the markets in their goods.
TechWomen and TechGirls, Verveer said, bring entrepreneurial women and girls to the United States to expand their knowledge of technology and business and to learn ways in which they might apply new skills in their countries.
The full report can be viewed on the Intel Corporation website.