10/13/2013 11:35 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

The Gender Gap Exists Online, Too

A report released by the UN Broadband Commission Working Group on Broadband and Gender revealed that there are 200-million fewer women online than men.

Called Doubling Digital Opportunities: Enhancing the Inclusion of Women & Girls in the Information Society, the report revealed that of the 2.8-billion Internet users worldwide, only 1.3 billion are women while 1.5 billion are men. The report further warns that if no steps are taken to address the issue, the gap could widen to as much as 350 million in the next three years.

The online gap in OECD nations is quite small, the report says, but this widens in developing countries primarily because the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) are reserved for men.

This technology gap does not end on the Internet. It is found in mobile communication devices as well. On the average, women around the world are 21 per cent less likely to have their own mobile phones. It means that there are 300 million less women who are owners of mobile phones compared to men.

The question now is: Why does the online gender gap matter, anyway? According to the report, access to ICTs allows users to exercise their freedom of expression. Doing so allows stakeholders to have a say in policy-making. Equally important is the fact that closing this online gender gap makes for good economics.

Citing research from various sources, the report says: "The World Bank (2009) estimates that every 10 per cent increase in access to broadband results in 1.38 per cent growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for developing countries. Bringing women online can boost GDP -- Intel (2013) estimates that bringing 600 million additional women and girls online could boost global GDP by up to US$13-18 billion."

Bridging the tech gap also provides opportunities to businesses to widen their customer base. The mobile phone gap, for example, represented potential missed revenues amounting to US$13 million for the mobile industry. Indeed, giving more women online access results to more robust economies.

Given the direct relationship between ICT access and economic growth, what must nations do in order to give more women better online access? The Broadband Commission strongly urges policymakers to incorporate gender perspectives into ICT policies so that gender equality is attained. They should also look at how to make ICT equipment and Internet access affordable to those whose low incomes do not permit them to afford a useful broadband connection.

The report also suggests the development of relevant and local online content to those in marginalized areas and providing digital literacy training for women and girls, among others. The Broadband Commission also encourages governments to study their recommendations so that they can create an action plan that would provide for gender equality in online access by the year 2020.

By Nicel Jane Avellana, contributor at r/ally, the mobile collaboration platform that lets you socialize your goals.

Global Gender Gap