The Web Foundation and Alliance for Affordable Internet offer two reports: 1) Women’s Rights Online: Translating Access into Empowerment[i] and (2) 2015-16 Affordability Report[ii] as a contribution to the call by the ITU Council Working Group on International Internet-related Public Policy Issues.
While the benefits of Internet access are well document, of concern are current trends that can attenuate these positive impacts. Governments, especially in developing countries, seem more responsive to the idea of the Internet as an enabler of economic rights, much less so social, cultural, civil and political rights. This obviously presents a challenge as we can’t really have some rights without others, nor have the Internet’s use fragmented in that way. For example, blocking and filtering of content (as well as the growing trend of Internet shutdowns) prevent women (as well as all citizens) from exercising and enjoying their right to information; in the case of women, blocking/filtering of Internet content affects their access to sexual and reproductive health information.
Other important trends in Internet access and use include income inequality[iii], which impacts how low-income groups and women access and use the Internet. In particular, our understanding of what is affordable Internet is distorted by high-levels of income inequality. If policies do not account for this it will make it harder to improve access for all. In addition, we will never achieve universal Internet access without acknowledging and addressing the gender gap in access. The Women’s Rights Online report found that women are 50% less likely than men to access the Internet in ten countries across the global South. In fact, globally the digital gender gap is growing.[iv] Our reports show that adverse social norms[v] are affecting women’s ownership of digital assets and in turn, how they benefit from the Internet. Perhaps of most concern is that most broadband/ICT policies are gender-blind[vi] and are doing nothing to reduce this gap.
ICT Policy reform presents a momentous opportunity to reverse and halt the growing digital divide, that is a poverty and gender divide. In particular, governments can “REACT” to this by protecting and enhancing women’s rights online; ensuring that primary and secondary school curricula must incorporate digital skills training, and that women have equal access to tertiary education opportunities; set a more ambitious affordability target[vii] if we are to achieve SDG 9c by 2020; invest in public access solutions; ensure relevant content for women is available and used; and to Define, set and measure targets for gender-responsive ICT policy[viii]
[v] See page 24 of Women’s Rights Online: Translating Access to Empowerment