The Startup
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The Startup

The Digital Divide

Photo by Gilles Lambert on Unsplash

Surely you remember playing “Snake” on your mother’s Nokia 3310? I had christened the phone “33-Brick” due to its robust nature. You could bounce that phone off the sidewalk and its exterior wouldn't even flinch. And talk about a battery life that was monstrous — 22 hours of talk time with a single charge?

Unmatched!

The nostalgia continues with the Sony Ericsson W810i. I have fond memories of my schoolmates and I congregating at the back of the bus to sample the latest Giggs’ album, Walk In The Park.

Like sardines, we would cluster tightly and spend hours trying to send music via Infrared. This was well before the luxury of Apple’s Airdrop feature. If the bus hits an aggressive bump on the road, which consequently jolts your connection, that’s tough luck! Suck it up and start the sending process again.

Physics was never my strong suit, but I discovered that by placing the base of the phone against the window, I was able to amplify the sound of the speakers. Ingenious to me, obnoxious to my surrounding passengers. I was a little runt.

Without a doubt, these were doting recollections from an iconic past-time. But, I say all of this to underline the stark difference in technology over the last decade.

Who would have foreseen being able to summon food right to your doorstep without uttering a word (UberEats) — Or dispatch magically disappearing photos (Snapchat). How about transferring digital payments with the press of a button (Venmo).

We’ve been granted the power to communicate with a face residing thousands of miles away, whilst simultaneously accessing real-time information about the 2020 US Presidental Election.

Hey Siri, play “FDT by YG (ft. Nipsey Hussle)”

All on a phone? Yea, right? You would have been laughed off that very same bus for championing such an idea 10 years ago.

The upsurge in technology has been staggering!

But what’s even more staggering is that despite these so-called “digital advancements”, there still exists a substantial gender disparity in mobile phone and internet access.

According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, men are 21% more likely to be “online” than women — Online referring to internet accessibility. When applied to the world’s least developed countries, this percentage jumps to a whopping 52%.

Additionally, women are grossly underrepresented in the technology sector with only 5% assuming a leadership position.

Gender inequality in a realm that encompasses a tremendous proportion of our modern-day functionality poses a serious threat. Being offline today means missing out on opportunities to augment learning, inevitably dwindling your earning potential. Being offline today limits your access to valuable services and cuts your connection to a wider community. Being offline today is SCARY.

“The digital divide could be deepening existing gender inequalities, pushing women further to the margins of society

— Carlos Iglesias

Can I truly identify as a Data Scientist, if I wasn’t chomping at the bits to investigate this matter further? By marrying quantitative data with a visual storytelling element, I sought to breathe qualitative insights into the What, Why, and How surrounding our planet’s digital divide.

№1: What?

What does The Digital Divide actually look like?

To uncover any meaningful insight, I first had to gather data on gender disparity and perform what tech boffins call an ‘ETL’.

In computing, Extract, Transform, and Load is the general procedure of copying data from one or more sources into a destination system that represents the data differently from the source or in a different context than the source.

Phew, that was a mouthful. These tech folks and their overly complicated acronyms.

In Layman’s terms, you can copy data into Excel, delete the redundant rows, and present your findings in an intuitive format. Simples — Cue the Meerkat from the ‘Compare The Market’ commercial.

Thanks to Andy Kriebel and the team at Data World, I was able to secure a comprehensive dataset, which included information on; Country, Region, Gender Gap (mobile phone access), Gender Gap (internet access), and total Internet Users (per household).

Data secured and scrubbed, I now needed a platform to translate my queries into a powerful visualization. In a world of self-delivery robots, doggy cams, and translator earbuds, somehow Microsoft PowerPoint just is not cutting it anymore.

I selected Tableau Public as my weapon of choice. This is a free software that allows anyone to connect to a spreadsheet or file and create interactive data visualizations for the web.

Twenty minutes and a few calculated fields later, I produced a chart that vividly depicts the gender disparity in technology access across 104 countries.

You can take a closer look at the finished visualization on my Tableau Public profile.

Rather than being completely blown away by the findings, the graph more so reinforced my initial suspicions. When compared to men, women had more access to mobile phones and the internet in only 6 out of 104 countries.

I knew there was a substantial gender gap, but 6 countries?! That’s ludicrous.

№2: Why?

Why is The Digital Divide prevalent in specific countries?

Economic factors certainly offered the most plausible explanation as to why there was a gender disparity in technology access and why it ubiquitous in some countries more than others.

Countries with strong economic growth, high GDP per capita, and low unemployment rates tended to display a higher percentage of internet users per household and little to no gender gap in technology access. In contrast, developing countries fell on the other end of the spectrum. Gender disparity in technology access is more prevalent in Burundi than let’s say Australia.

Pakistan was the clear front-runner in the gender gap dilemma with 70.6% of men having more access to technology than women.

In a society marked by constricting patriarchal influences, where women are confined to the boundaries of child-rearing and the kitchen stove, these dreary statistics should come as no surprise.

Try and guess what country reported the least gender disparity in internet access?

Great Britain? Nope.

Qatar? Negative.

Final answer, Canada? That’s three strikes!

If you had guessed the Phillippines, you would have been correct. Unfortunately, I do not have any brownie points to give out. Data obtained from the Phillippines (-14%) suggests that overall, women had more access than men to both mobile phones and the internet.

I admittedly found this puzzling.

To my knowledge, the Phillippines have historically been classified as a low-income country. Marred by economic instability, high infant mortality rates, and a lack of access to essential health care, the Philippines is very much a developing country. I even pulled up statistics from the World Population Review to corroborate this.

Yet these figures dispel our previous assumption that only high-income countries can exhibit low gender disparity ratings in technology access.

So why is this the case? I took to our best friend, Google, to help figure out an answer.

The Phillippines actually celebrates one of the smallest gender disparity rates in the world — ranked 10th out of 145 countries. Gender roles are relatively balanced with men taking on just as much, if not more of the household tasks.

I did unearth some unsettling information about marriage practices in the Phillippines. It’s a widely accepted norm for Filipino women to seek courtship with foreign men. In a bid to buy a ticket out of poverty, Filipino women will marry wealthy foreigners and use their partners' resources to support their parents and sibling back home.

The American TV series, “90-day-fiance” portrays such relationships between Filipino women and American men, as they try to navigate through the US immigration system.

There is no clear-cut line linking Filipino women's high mobile phone usage as a means to enticing foreign men but this phenomenon is worth noting.

As a proud Nigerian, I am always curious to determine where we stand in these social debates. As I previously stated in Write Stories You Want Your Younger Self To Read, the Nigerian diaspora is one of the largest immigrant populations in the world.

What’s the verdict on Nigeria and The Digital Divide?

Yea, it’s not looking too hot for Nigeria.

Similar to Pakistan, Nigeria is a country still under the stimulus of a patriarchal system but a gender disparity rating of 22% pales in comparison to the former. Nonetheless, this is still 22% more than it should be.

Another striking statistic stood out to me. Out of the 104 countries surveyed in this report, Nigeria recorded one of the lowest Internet User scores. Only 7.4% of households have access to the internet.

Why?

‘NEPA ti mu ina!’

This is a common Yoruba exclamation I’ve heard my mother cite before. It literally translates to ‘NEPA has taken the light away’.

Nigeria has long struggled with access to sustainable electricity at the hands of power holding company, NEPA. This puts a stranglehold on its quest to become a progressive country. How can we implement equality for women in technology, when we can not even implement mandatory infrastructural systems.

№3: How?

How can we bridge The Digital Divide?

From an empirical standpoint, data scientists advocate concentrating research on outlining the disadvantages faced by women in technology.

From there, we can identify where to allocate the resources needed to tackle this disparity. The Women in Stem Campaign, through Media Planet, has done a tremendous job in breaking this gender stereotype. More women need to be used as reference groups for women-related issues. This will undoubtedly empower others and inspire future generations through representations.

How will I help?

By simply doing more of this!

There needs to be more research tailored to gathering sex-disaggregated data. These findings then need to be shared with the rest of the world. With an abundant power to drive economic growth and facilitate social opportunity, the internet offers the ideal bedrock to connect to almost 3.3 billion people.

Make use of this. Release thought-provoking content about key issues that will resonate with others and sway the mind.

Ultimately, we need to understand that gender disparity in technology access only scratches the surface of a broader systemic phenomenon.

Perhaps this is a barrier we will never cross. Are we so far gone that the remnants of sexism, racism, and classism will always find a home in our world?

Who is to say?

Personally, I like to tilt on the side of optimism. For years, I witnessed my mother do so much with so little. How can I not champion the dismantlement of such disparity?

It may take a little longer than we anticipate but we will get there.

We, the microwave generation, have been so caught up in this sprawling wave of expansive technology that we sometimes forget to put things into perspective. It’s irrational for us to expect the same rapid diffusion to just as quickly seep into all avenues of evolving culture.

Sh*t takes time!

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to far, go together”

- African Proverb

Well, we know reform does not occur overnight and it cannot be ushered alone. Therefore, we must adopt the robust, indefatigable qualities of my mother’s Nokia 3310. We must bind together strong, and devise cohesive strategies to help bridge the digital divide.

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