September 27, 2016

The Broadband Gender Divide Takes Center Stage

Doreen Bogdan-Martin:

Chief of the Strategic Planning and Membership Department of ITU and Executive Secretary of the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development provides some key insights from the recently published 2016 State of Broadband Report.

The 2016 State of Broadband Report published by the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development offers plenty of good news, data, and insights on the deployment of broadband worldwide and developments in the next generation of mobile broadband (5G), fixed broadband and satellite broadband systems.

The global market for broadband is robust. The total number of active mobile-broadband subscriptions is expected to exceed 3.6 billion by end of 2016, up from 3.2 billion at end of 2015. By the end of 2016, there will be 3.5 billion people online, yet more than half the world’s population, some 3.9 billion currently remain offline. That’s both a red flag and an opportunity. Leaders in the telecommunications community recognize that to bring nearly 4 billion people online is a serious challenge, but is essential if we are to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

The telco and technology industry also recognizes that women and girls play a vital part in sustainable global development. On September 18, at the annual Broadband Commission meeting in New York City, ITU and UN Women teamed up with partners from Silicon Valley to Mexico to launch EQUALS: The Global Partnership for Gender Equality in the Digital Age. EQUALS will collaborate with every programme, whether run by a foundation, corporation, ministry, or NGO, attempting to bring digital literacy and savvy to all women and girls in the world.

EQUALS’s mission is to coordinate knowledge-sharing and boost best practices among disparate programs with similar goals to shrink the gender digital divide by 2020. ITU estimates that there are some 250 million fewer women online than men. Our ICT Fact and Figures 2016 suggest that the global Internet user gender gap grew from 11% in 2013 to 12% in 2016. At 31%, the gap remains largest in the world’s least developed countries (LDCs).

Further concern arises from ITU figures that show that Internet penetration rates are higher for men than women in every region of the world. In addition, there are 1.7 billion women in low- and middle-income countries who still do not own a mobile phone, according to GSMA, and there are few women in the ICT workforce at every level and in every country. The gap is particularly worrying in senior management positions. Empowering girls and women with ICT skills can also solve the predicted shortfall of over two million jobs in the technology sector within the next five years. Women and girls can be the solution, but only if they have affordable access to ICTs and broadband.

There’s a lot of work ahead. If we are to start bridging the Digital Divide and make real progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, the ICT sector, ministries and civil society will have to work closely together, and invest seriously in sharing the best practices necessary to reach every town and village in every corner of the world.

It’s good to know that, with the EQUALS programme, we are working together for the digital future of women and girls. That’s a great place to start.

Doreen Bogdan-Martin
Doreen Bogdan-Martin @DoreenBogdan  has been the Chief of the Strategic Planning and Membership Department since  2008. She was previously the Head of the ITU/BDT Regulatory and Market Environment Division and was responsible for the programmes on Regulatory Reform and Economics and Finance.
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The Broadband Gender Divide Takes Center Stage

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