Report: Women and the Web Bridging the Internet gap and creating new global opportunities in low and middle-income countries
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Women and the Web: Bridging the Internet gap and creating new global opportunities in low and middle-income countries
From activists in Egypt to coffee farmers in Colombia, the Internet has
transformed the lives of billions of people. It functions as a gateway to
ideas, resources, and opportunities that never could have been realized
before, let alone fathomed. All around the world, the Internet is helping
people to imagine new possibilities—and then, to make them happen.
But women and girls are being left behind.
On average across the developing world, nearly 25 percent
fewer women than men have access to the Internet, and
the gender gap soars to nearly 45 percent in regions like
sub-Saharan Africa. Even in rapidly growing economies the
gap is enormous. Nearly 35 percent fewer women than
men in South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa have
Internet access, and nearly 30 percent in parts of Europe
and across Central Asia. In most higher-income countries,
women’s Internet access only minimally lags that of men’s,
and in countries such as France and the United States, in
fact exceeds it.
Bridging the Internet gender gap represents an opportunity
of immense proportions. Internet access is fast becoming
an indispensable entrée to a hyper-connected world. The
Internet contribution to global GDP is greater than the
GDP of Canada.1 In India, Internet-based economic activity
accounts for more than 5 percent of GDP growth.2 Without
access to the Internet, women lack access to its tools,
resources and opportunities. And because women are
critical collaborators in the effort to achieve development
goals such as reduced child malnutrition and mortality,3 or
increased economic growth,4 this gap disadvantages not just
women, but their families, communities and countries. As
the findings from this study demonstrate, Internet access
• Boosts women’s income and income potential. Across
our surveyed countries, nearly half of respondents
used the web to search for and apply for a job, and
30 percent had used the Internet to earn additional
• Increases women’s sense of empowerment. More than
70 percent of Internet users considered the Internet
“liberating” and 85 percent said it “provides more
• Increases women’s sense of equity. While the
international community is split over whether access to
the Internet is a human right in itself, nearly 90 percent
of women Internet users surveyed said it should be.
A dedicated global effort to address the Internet gender
gap could double the number of women online within three
years. Although access to the Internet is spreading rapidly
in developing countries, women are nearly 25 percent less
likely than men to be online. This gender gap—which today
prevents a staggering 200 million women from participating
online—is projected to perpetuate. A dedicated and
coordinated effort by public and private sector actors
is urgently needed to accelerate the pace of progress
in bridging this gap. Without any concerted action, 450
million new female Internet users are projected to come
online in the next three years, simply as a result of organic
growth in Internet penetration. We believe progress can
be accelerated to add 600 million new female Internet
users within three years, rather than 450 million, which
would double the number of women and girls online. As
this report will explain, doubling the women and girls online
in such a short timeframe is an ambitious but eminently
achievable goal—given a concerted multi-stakeholder
campaign. This is an opportunity worth urgently pursuing
because the faster the internet gender gap is closed, the
sooner women, their families, communities and countries
will realize the significant socio-economic benefits that can
be unlocked through access to the Internet.
Enabling Internet access for an incremental 150 million
women promises immediate—and immense—benefits.
Seeing another 600 million women online would mean that
40 percent of women and girls in developing countries
would have access to the transformative power of the
As a result, it would…
1 “The great transformer: The impact of the Internet on economic growth and prosperity,”
McKinsey Global Institute. 2011.
2 “Online and coming: the Internet’s impact on aspiring countries: Mexico,” McKinsey &
3 Each additional year of female education reduces child mortality by 18 per thousand.
The World Bank Group, “Girls’ Education: Designing for Success,” The World Bank Africa
Region Human Development. As cited in Murphy, S. “Investing In Girls’ Education: An
Opportunity for Corporate Leadership.” Harvard Kennedy School. 2009.
4 Each 1 percent increase in the level of women’s education generates .3 percent in
additional economic growth.
Knowles, S., P.K. Lorgelly, and P.D. Owen. 2002. “Are
Educational Gender Gaps a Brake on Economic Development? Some Cross-Country
Empirical Evidence.” Oxford Economic Papers 54: 118-149. As cited in Murphy, S.
“Investing In Girls’ Education: An Opportunity for Corporate Leadership.” Harvard
Kennedy School. 2009.
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