Too many women are being excluded from the technological revolution. The UN estimates that some 200 million more men have access to the internet than women and this chasm is especially wide in developing countries. It’s vital that this industrial revolution doesn’t entrench gender divides.
The digital exclusion of women is primarily a product of social inequalities. In many global south countries, women occupy traditional roles in the home or in the primary production sector, such as farming. According to the UN’s report, The World’s Women 2015, women are more likely than men to be unemployed or to work in the home or smallholding, which usually implies that they have little or no monetary income. In Oceania, sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia, between 30 and 55% of employed women are contributing family workers, about 20% higher than men in the same regions. With many women beginning these roles in their childhood years, their access to digital technology is limited early on and often never recovers.
Hmm, OK. maybe we’d better do something about that?
Like, I dunno, get some people to build some more towers? Licence a bit more spectrum to make it cheaper? Get the factories churning out landfill Android? Go with the Facebook idea of a bit of free access?
There’s sure a number of things that can be done. But that’s not quite what is suggested:
The WEF claims gender parity is one of its key global issues and the subject will be discussed as this year’s forum, albeit as a side issue.
But a group that is so male and so western needs to be more representative if it is to fulfil its remit as the “World” Economic Forum. No less than 65% of nearly 3,000 delegates at Davos last year were from North America and western Europe, versus just 4% from Africa. So listening to more voices from the developing world – especially female ones – and allowing them to participate would be a good place to start.
No, apparently the solution is that more birds from Africa could go to a Swiss mountain resort for a gabfest. That’ll do it!
Professor Henrietta Moore is director, UCL Institute for Global Prosperity
And people wonder why the academic discipline of studying development isn’t taken all that seriously.