Let’s Close the Internet Gender Gap

By Michaela Smiley

On and around International Women’s Day each year, we celebrate women in our own lives who we respect and admire, and we remember with gratitude women of history who have championed gender equality. We’re also reminded that there is so much more work to be done. Closing the wage gender gap will take 177 years if we don’t pick up the pace; only 14.6% of CEOs are women; women’s leadership in government is strikingly low; and education access and enrollment continues to lag for girls around the world.

Every gender disparity demands laser focus. And, the internet is a building block on which many solutions can be built. Therefore, digital inclusion — the idea that the Internet is accessible, welcoming and safe for all — is essential so that all people, women included, can both contribute to and also reap the benefits of the open Web.

The Internet gender gap

The Internet is not yet an equal playing field. Women are still about 50% less likely to be connected to the Internet than men. We must do better, and we can start by acknowledging the obstacles to women’s participation online.

Access. Women in the developing world (specifically, in urban poor communities of Africa, Latin America and Asia) are 50% less likely to have Internet access than men. Cost is one of the significant factors contributing to the lack of access for women. The cost of the internet is a higher financial burden for women given pay disparities around the world.

Education. According to the World Wide Web Foundation, women are 1.6 times more likely than men to report lack of skills as a barrier to being on the Internet. Education is a strong determinant of Web literacy and internet use. Consider that urban poor women with at least some secondary education are six times more likely to be online than their peers without secondary education.

Harassment. Women in particular are targets of cyber-harassment and violence across a range of online platforms, and this leads to mistrust and retreat from the Web. With this in mind, it’s not surprising that women are 52% less likely than men to express controversial views online.

The great democratizer

A healthy, inclusive Internet that is accessed by more women — and is friendlier to women — can help close gender gaps all over the world. Rich with content, the Internet enables knowledge cultivation, learning, critical thinking and skill building. Moreover, the Internet is a catalyst for invention and innovation. It connects and empowers people to compete and play in a global marketplace.

In essence, the Internet has the potential to serve as a great democratizer at scale. But, if women are deprived from accessing the Internet and expressing themselves online, we all lose. Those missing women have the potential to take the next generation of the Web to places we can’t even imagine, reflecting a better world.

Making digital inclusion real

Liza Durón leads regular training for women in Mexico on how to use the Internet in safe, inviting learning spaces. Passionate about helping others discover their potential, she has also run workshops for seniors, teaching them how to use computers for the first time.

Across the world in South Africa, Mmaki Jantjies recruits recent university graduates to teach women and girls how to use and contribute to the Web. She serves as a role model for young girls, demonstrating that a career in technology is indeed possible for women.

Liza and Mmaki are leaders of Mozilla Clubs — focused on making digital inclusion real through Web literacy and education programs at the local level. They draw on a comprehensive curriculum that covers topics like Web navigation; content creation; coding; online rights, privacy and security; and connecting to opportunities linked to women’s leadership, civic participation and economic empowerment.

As a non-profit, Mozilla is dedicated to keeping the Internet healthy, open and accessible to all. Through a partnership with UN Women, Mozilla Clubs for women and girls are just one of the ways we’re working to make this happen.

Mozilla creates open curricula that empowers people to create safe spaces online, like the Teaching Kit: Combating Cyber Violence Against Women and Girls. We also are a champion for equal rating, building a global community to research and innovate sustainable models to make the entire open internet accessible and affordable to everyone. And, we recently published the Internet Health Report, highlighting what is helping — and what is hurting — the internet, so that we can all be smarter when it comes to creating and protecting the Web for all people regardless of gender, wealth, abilities, age, sexual orientation, race, or national origin.

We are committed to giving all people unconditional support to accessing the Internet and being welcomed online.

5 easy ways to help women thrive online

We can all do our part to make the Web a more inclusive place. Below are 5 easy ways you can personally help women thrive online.

  1. Acknowledge and encourage women’s contributions online. Show them public thanks using #womenoftheweb.
  2. Treat others with respect online and appreciate each other’s differences. If you witness an instance of cyber violence or bullying, record it and report it. Moreover, talk to your kids about cyber bullying, and encourage their teachers to do the same.
  3. Offer your own technical know-how to family members, friends and neighbors. Or, start a Mozilla club like Liza and Mmaki did, with a digital inclusion focus.
  4. Donate your old computers, laptops, and phones to non-profits like Reconnect, Students Recycling Used Technology, or Interconnection, who refurbish and redistribute them to underserved communities.
  5. Become a more informed citizen who rises to having conversation and debate about solutions by reading up and getting involved with organizations that are doing good for women. Here’s a non-exhaustive list to get you started:

Together, we can forge a more inclusive, gender equal world and Web.