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Published On:02 February 2013
Posted by Indian Muslim Observer

Fifth of women in India and Egypt think internet use is 'inappropriate'

One in five women in India and Egypt believe that the internet is not appropriate for them to use, according to a new study looking at female web use in the developing world.

By Emma Barnett

These women, polled by technology company Intel, believe that engaging online would not be useful for them and that if they did, their families would disapprove.

In some communities, societal norms restrict women from walking on the street and certainly from visiting cybercafés – which may be the only means of accessing a computer and therefore the web.

The report, entitled ‘Women and the Web’, found that the women in these countries who did use the internet were almost three times as likely as non-users to report that their families were ‘very supportive’ of their web usage – while non-users were six times more likely to report family opposition.

Intel commissioned the report to collate hard data to illustrate the large internet gender gap in the developing world – with a view to understanding the reasons for the divide in order to help more women get online in these countries through scholarships and community learning programs.

It also found that on average, across the developing world, nearly 25 per cent fewer women than men have access to the web, and the gap soars to nearly 45 per cent in regions such as sub-Saharan Africa.

"With the powerful capabilities the internet enables - to connect, to learn, to engage, to increase productivity, and to find opportunities - women's lack of access is giving rise to a second digital divide, one where women and girls risk being left further and further behind, "said Melanne Verveer, ambassador-at-large for Global Women's Issues at the U.S. Department of State, which helped compile the report. "My hope is that this report will catalyze action to close the internet gender gap. This will require knowledge, leadership, determination and collaboration among governments, public institutions, corporations, and civil society to tackle the wide range of gender-specific barriers to internet access."

"There is wide acknowledgement around the globe that women's empowerment is a basic issue of social and economic justice and also essential to wider social progress and sustainable development," added Michelle Bachelet, under-secretary-general and executive director of UN Women, which also worked with Intel to collate the findings.

"This report demonstrates that expanding access to the internet and technology for women and girls is critical to their improved education, increased opportunity and ability to foster entrepreneurship in countries around the world."

Those behind the report are now calling for governments, companies and communities to work together to help double the number of women and girls online in developing countries from 600 million today to 1.2 billion in three years.

It is estimated that getting another 600 million women online in this part of the world could potentially contribute an estimated $13bn to $18bn to annual GDP across 144 developing countries – because of the transformative power of the web on business and education opportunities.

The study’s findings are based on interviews and surveys of 2,200 women and girls living in urban areas of four focus countries in the developing world; Egypt, India, Mexico and Uganda.

Currently in the UK 16 million people do not have basic digital skills – despite many of them having an internet connection in their homes. Additionally 7.9 million Britons have never been online – a figure which has come down from 11.5 million in the last four years. Martha Lane Fox, the Government’s digital champion tasked with getting more people online around the UK, and the chair of Go On UK, a charity which helps people get online, says that even in Britain more of the non-web users are women – especially older women.

“It is such an important issue – and when the UN called the internet a ‘basic human right’ a few years ago, I couldn’t have agreed more,” Lane Fox told The Telegraph.

“No country can afford to be complacent about such matters – even in Africa when we keep hearing stories of smartphone usage having shot through the roof. We cannot assume that the market will sort this sort of gender divide out. It needs a coalition of governments – to set the tone and lead, the private sector and citizens to offer peer support to step in.”

Lane Fox believes the most effective way of getting people online for the first time is through peer to peer support. “Most people who haven’t been online always say ‘what’s the point?’. But they cannot know what they are missing out on until someone they trust recommends a particular service – whether it’s ordering food online or speaking to a member of the family over Skype – and shows them. Only then does the naysaying stop,” she said.

(Courtesy: The Telegraph)

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