With ingenuity and resourcefulness, women are coding new strategies to bring more women online and empower them. World leaders and technology firms should be paying attention to their solutions—and backing them up.
According to the Women and the Web report, 200 million more men have access to the Internet than women. In mid- to low-income countries this statistic soars to a 25-40 percent access gap between women and men. A host of cultural, economic, social and infrastructural barriers keep women locked out from the empowerment potential of Internet access.
But while global experts search for solutions to bridge the worsening digital divide for women, it turns out the answers are at our fingertips.
Every day I witness women around the world who are building the Web they want and bridging the gap so more women and girls can access the Internet’s immense benefits.
There’s Olutosin in Lagos, Nigeria. Her country is known for the hostile men who conduct online scams from Internet cafés across the region, men who make these cafés unsafe for women. Olutosin has created an alternative: a women-only center that allows Nigerian women to connect online safely and freely.
Over the hum of her café’s fuel-powered generator, Olutosin types, “Our center is the safest place for any woman to access the Internet in my community. Even if it is for an hour each day, women will access the Web. It is the only place where we can weave our desired world without sweating profusely with gender inhibitions.”
And then there is Myrna in the Philippines, who escaped trafficking as a young girl and worked as a domestic helper. After her employer’s seven-year-old son taught her to use a computer, she rose up to found her own IT company. Today, she is using technology to help fellow trafficking victims.
That’s just the beginning. In Crimea, women are using the Internet to advocate for peace as the country navigates its newfound Russian identity. There are digital literacy trainings for women springing up in Bangladesh, Internet cafés for women opening doors in Argentina, and women leaders in Kenya prototyping mobile apps that send out alerts if a woman’s safety is threatened.
It’s time to take a closer look at how we can boost the feminine digital revolution—a revolution that is already underway. At World Pulse we trust that local women community leaders will reveal the way forward. We launched a global crowdsourcing campaign to collect homegrown solutions and ideas to spread digital empowerment. Hundreds of submissions poured in from 70+ countries as part of our Women Weave the Web Campaign.
Women themselves revealed key challenges — issues of safety, affordability, technological skill, distance to Internet cafés, and gender norms that restrict women’s access — but solutions are also being generated.
We know there is enormous potential in bringing more women online. The Women and the Web report estimates that bringing 600 million additional women and girls online could boost global GDP by up to $13 billion. And we know that those who have access to participate in the knowledge economy will hold the power to shape the future of civilization.
Women in our online community tell of solutions, but they also tell of risk. They warn us that we cannot ignore the horrifying stories that reveal the dark side of technology.
In India, women bloggers are threatened on Twitter with “live-telecasted gang-rape and acid attacks.” In Bengal, police report that girls, farmers’ wives, and brick-kiln laborers are being tricked into one night stands that are digitally recorded and then circulated, sentencing the women to lives of shame.”
But for every horror story, there is a story of hope and a story of creative solution building. For Barbara — a participant in a training led by World Pulse community member Loyce Kyogabirwe in a remote fishing community in Uganda — the issue of domestic violence and mobile phones has been transformed. She wrote, “As much as these telephones have caused violence against women in some circumstances, I have learnt that we can use the same phones to send messages to the men who violate women’s rights to educate them about violence against women.”
Above all the message we are hearing is that, although the Web can be a dangerous place for women, the solution is not to focus on protecting women from the Web, but instead the solution is to increase our efforts to enable women to mold the web and make it their own.
World Pulse’s campaign catalogued these recommendations for making the web more easily accessible and safe for women users. From reducing the price of mobile Internet for rural populations, to establishing safe technology centers for women, to providing digital literacy training for girls in high school — women are not only generating solutions, they’re putting these solutions into practice. We’re delivering these ideas to key forums, including the Silicon Valley Rights Conference and the Internet Governance Forum, to make sure they are heard loud and clear.
If global experts can heed the recommendations of women worldwide and combine the best of the global technology industry with the ingenuity of women on the ground to solve the digital divide challenge, we can unlock a colossal wave of human potential and freedom for future generations.
I challenge top development experts, technology leaders, philanthropists and policy-makers to partner with grassroots women the world over and rise to the task. The women I work with every day are ready. With support, these local grassroots women leaders can lead the charge and open doors for billions of people in their communities.
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