Promoting gender equality and empowering women and girls is crucial for both human rights and sustainable development. Access to digital technology plays a significant role in achieving these goals, as it stimulates economic growth, improves development outcomes, and has the potential to uplift millions out of poverty.
However, progress in narrowing the gender digital divide has been slow. In 2022, approximately 260 million more men than women were using the internet globally. The digital gender gap is especially prominent in Africa, where 66 percent of women do not have internet access. This gap hinders women’s full participation in the 21st-century economy.
To address this issue, Vice President Kamala Harris launched the Women in the Digital Economy Fund in March 2023. The fund, initially supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, identifies and funds evidence-based solutions to close the gender digital divide. USAID has committed $50 million, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has committed $10 million by 2026. At least half of these resources will be focused on Africa. Additionally, partners such as Microsoft and the Government of the Republic of South Korea have pledged an additional $11.6 million.
In response to the G20’s commitment to halve the digital gender gap by 2030, USAID launched the Women in the Digital Economy Initiative. This initiative aims to bring together governments, private sector companies, foundations, civil society, and multilateral organizations to accelerate progress in closing the gender digital divide.
The Women in the Digital Economy Initiative focuses on five pillars:
1. Access and Affordability: Increase internet access and ensure that devices and digital services are affordable, reliable, secure, and accessible for women, including those with disabilities.
2. Relevant Products and Tools: Design and provide access to products and tools that meet women’s needs and facilitate their use of technology for income-generation purposes.
3. Literacy and Skills: Enhance women’s digital skills and literacy to enable their full participation in the digital economy.
4. Safety and Security: Address gender-based violence and online harassment, and strengthen digital user protection.
5. Data and Insights: Collect and use sex-disaggregated data to better understand and address gender disparities in technology adoption, and track progress towards closing the gender digital divide.
The Women in the Digital Economy Initiative has garnered support and contributions from various governments, private sector companies, philanthropies, multilateral organizations, and civil society organizations. Some examples include Australia, Canada, Finland, Germany, Japan, Republic of Korea, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, each allocating significant funding towards initiatives that aim to close the gender digital divide.
Efforts to bridge the gender digital divide will have a lasting impact on women’s livelihoods, economic security, and resilience. By promoting women’s access to digital technology and empowering them with the necessary skills, we can create a more inclusive and equitable digital world.