Better broadband policies offer a clear path to improving women’s internet access and use, and to moving forward toward universal access goals. However, our recent research of 58 low and middle income countries national broadband policies indicates that only a handful of governments have taken any action at the policy level to advance true progress toward closing the digital gender divide. This finding reflects the very limited progress that has been made since previous assessments (most notably those by the Broadband Commission in 2013 and the Web Foundation in 2014) which revealed similarly serious shortcomings in advancing women’s opportunities for online access and use. Without a specific focus on improving access and use opportunities for women, policies will continue to exclude half the population. Creating a more accessible and empowering internet for women requires policy that focuses on a number of key areas, easily remembered as R.E.A.C.T: Rights, Education, Access, Content, and Targets.
In addition to developing policies that focus on rights, education, access, content, and targets, as outlined above, it is critical that women are included in the actual policymaking process. Policy designed for all citizens — and particularly policy focused on affecting women — should be designed with women, and governments must work to secure women’s participation in the policymaking process. In many countries, women’s organisations have made significant contributions to incorporating gender perspectives in policy across various sectors such as health, education, and the environment. Unfortunately, this is not the case in many other countries, where women’s voices are left entirely out of the policymaking process. It is now time for governments to take responsibility and immediate action to maximise the benefits of the internet and emerging technologies for all people.