Barriers need to be removed to give women more access to information and communication technologies.
All things being equal, digitalization is supposed to be democratizing, but the truth is all things aren’t equal—there’s a significant digital gender divide that exists in the world today when it comes to women’s ability to access information and communications technologies (ICTs). Without solutions that enable equal access, this gulf will continue to grow with profound implications for the development of female leaders in the workplace, workplace parity in general, and driving growth and innovation in the digital economy.
The Global Digital Gender Divide
It goes without saying that the Internet is a valuable tool, and when it’s used properly, it can significantly boost female social and economic empowerment. According to the U.S. Global Development Lab, between 77 to 84 percent of women reported using the Internet to further their education, more than 70% of women consider the Internet liberating, and 85% say it provides more freedom. But the problem is, around the world, women and girls simply don’t have the same access to the Internet as men. This is especially pronounced for women living in developing countries.
Women in developing countries are about 25 percent less likely to be online than men, and that inhibits their ability to fully connect to their world and communities. Worldwide, there is a gender gap of 12 percent. That number jumps to almost 31 percent in the least developed countries. The exponential nature and growth of technology are only exacerbating the issue. Reports also show that the overall digital gender gap is widening, with one estimate being that there are 200 million fewer women online than men.
G(irls)20 2018 and the importance of improving women’s access to information and communication technologies
Whether they’re economic or cultural in nature or the result of constraints due to caring duties, technophobia, or a lack of safe public spaces, the factors that are obstructing women and girls around the world from accessing ICTs are many. The issue of access will be a key focus at the 2018 G(irls)20 Global Summit taking place today in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Delegates and thought leaders from around the world—including D2L, which has been a summit sponsor since 2016—will be talking about the key issues facing girls and women globally, including the importance of reducing the digital gender divide. Topics covered will include women’s access to internet infrastructure (especially in rural areas), training programs (like coding boot camps) to develop entrepreneurial or employable skills, and how these things will increase female labor force participation, allow women access to equal opportunities in the workplace, such as leadership development.
Without solutions designed to break down the systemic barriers women and girls face when it comes to accessing ICTs—things like greater connectivity, affordable access, addressing threats that prevent access and use, and improving digital literacy and confidence—the digital gender divide will only continue to grow larger as digitalization continues to develop around the world. Without greater access, women and girls, particularly those in places where the problem of access is most pronounced, will be at risk of being left further behind. Information technology has become the gateway to the modern economy, and increasingly, to training programs and educational systems that can help women develop employable skills. This is especially true in places where those opportunities might not otherwise exist offline.
Every day women and girls are excluded from access to ICTs, their chance of catching up to digitalization is lessened. This is certainly to the detriment of all. While it is increasingly powered by digital technology, people are still the currency of the modern economy, the drivers of digital innovation, and in a time when the war for workforce talent rages on, a lack of gender diversity means less innovation. Citing the 2013 Broadband Commission report, the European Institute for Gender Equality has reported that the presence of women online can boost GDP—bringing an additional 600 million women and girls online around the world would result in a GDP increase of up to USD $18 billion. By standing pat while women’s access to ICTs is stymied, inhibiting their ability to take advantage of modern training and educational opportunities, we will continue to seriously cut our capacity to drive innovation and growth in the digital economy.
How D2L and MEDA broke down barriers for female entrepreneurs in Libya
Rooted in a firm belief that learning and education are foundational to all human progress, D2L’s ongoing mission has long been to transform the way the world learns; and that’s involved a concerted effort to break down barriers to education and training opportunities wherever possible. To that end, in 2016, the company partnered with Mennonite Economic Development Associates(MEDA), a renowned global non-profit organization, to help give female entrepreneurs across Libya access to entrepreneurial training through mobile devices. The goal was to help them to overcome instability and ongoing safety and security concerns in the region that had made traveling to attend meetings and classes next to impossible.
D2L’s modern learning platform, Brightspace, was a good fit for supporting MEDA’s vision of virtual business incubation delivered via a mobile phone, in Arabic, and culturally respectful. Online versions of business education courses were delivered straight to the entrepreneur’s mobile devices, and the collaborative program has allowed D2L and MEDA to reach scores of Libyan women looking to refine their business and leadership skills through entrepreneurial training. The program has since seen several women successfully acquire the training and skills needed to launch and run their own enterprises, and has demonstrated how enabling educational opportunities through access to ICTs can help change women’s lives, empowering them educationally, socially, and economically.
By unlocking these kinds of modern training and education opportunities for women and girls through greater access at scale to ICTs, by bridging the digital gender divide, we can continue to propel human progress by increasing economic opportunity for everyone, equally.